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Amputation—General Overview



Amputation is surgery to remove a body part. It is removed because of disease or damage.

Below-the-Knee Amputation

cropped leg

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Reasons for Procedure    TOP

It may be done for:


Possible Complications    TOP

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review these problems, such as:

  • Poor healing
  • Infection
  • Bleeding and blood clots
  • Phantom limb pain —feeling that the limb is still there
  • Problems from anesthesia

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to lower your risk of problems, such as:


What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

Your surgery may be planned. In this case, your doctor will review with you how it is done and what to expect. Your surgery may be due to an emergency. There may not be time to plan.

Before surgery, you doctor may:

  • Review your medications
  • Test your blood
  • Test your urine
  • Test your heart function

Leading up to your surgery:

  • Arrange for a ride home from the hospital. Also, arrange for someone to help you at home.
  • Do not drink for at least 8 hours before surgery.
  • You may be asked to use an antibacterial soap the morning of your surgery.
  • You may be given antibiotics to prevent infection.
  • Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some up to 1 week before surgery.


The anesthesia used will depend on the body part being removed. You may have:

Description of Procedure    TOP

An incision will be made into the skin of the limb or limb part. If needed, the muscles will also be cut. Blood vessels will be tied off or sealed to stop them from bleeding. The bone will then be cut through. The body part will be removed.

Muscle will be pulled over the bone. It will be sutured in place. The skin will be pulled over the muscle. It will be sewn to form a stump. A dressing will be placed over the area.

If infection is involved, the incision may be left open to heal.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

Surgery can take 20 minutes to many hours. It depends on the body part and your health.

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

Anesthesia will prevent pain. Pain and discomfort after surgery can be managed with medicines.

Average Hospital Stay    TOP

Your hospital stay will depend on the body part you had removed. Typically:

  • Foot or toe amputation: 2-7 days
  • Leg amputation: 2 days to 2 weeks or more
  • Upper extremity: 7-12 days
  • Finger amputation: 0-1 day

Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if problems arise.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

At the Hospital

After surgery, you can expect that:

  • The area involved will be raised. This will reduce swelling.
  • Your limb will be dressed in a bulky dressing, elastic bandage, or cast.
  • You will be advised to get up and walk as soon as you are able.
  • Physical therapy will start within 1-2 days. It will focus on strength and mobility.
  • You may wear a cast or special shoe for toe/foot amputations.
  • You may be given certain medicines. This may be antibiotics or blood thinners.
  • You will be fitted with a prosthesis as soon as your wound has healed.

Preventing Infection

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your incision

At Home

Stitches will be removed within a few weeks. When you return home:

  • Counseling may be advised to help with your emotions.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight for overall health and to make sure your prosthesis fits well.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions.

Call Your Doctor    TOP

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing or you have problems, such as:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision sites
  • Increasing or excessive pain
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Severe nausea and vomiting

If you think you have emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Diabetes Association

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


Canadian Diabetes Association

The Canadian Orthopaedic Association


Bone sarcoma in the upper extremity: treatment options using limb salvage or amputation. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 2007. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Fingertip injuries/amputations. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated: 5/14/2018

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