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What is Involved in an Amputation Procedure?

By Dave Slovak
Updated May 17, 2024
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Amputation is the removal of a body part through surgery or through an injury. When done as a medical procedure, amputation surgery is typically used to remove injured or diseased tissue. The amputation procedure typically includes cutting through the tissue and bone to remove the limb, covering the exposed area with skin, and attaching a prosthetic limb. The amputation process is long and involved, with the patient preparing for an amputation and receiving care after an amputation.

The types of amputations are determined by the limbs removed. For example, some common leg amputations include amputation of toes, below the knee amputation or above the knee amputation.

In preparing for an amputation, the patient and the doctor confer about the risks associated with the surgery. The doctor may review the patient’s medical history and allergies to medications. The surgeon may also perform tests to determine the proper place to perform the amputation. The goal of the tests is to preserve as much of the limb as possible while also removing all of the injured or diseased tissue.

During the actual amputation procedure, the first step is to cut the skin and muscle while also controlling the bleeding. The surgeon cuts through the bone and smooths down the rough edges. After removing the limb, the surgeon covers the amputation site with flaps of skin and bandages. If needed, the surgeon implants the pieces required to connect the stump with the prosthetic device.

As with any major surgery, amputation surgery carries many risks. Some possible complications from the amputation procedure include joint deformity, bruises, infection, blood clots, wound opening or death of the skin flaps. Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are also common complications of an amputation. Infections are a major risk that comes with the surgery. If the stump becomes infected, the surgeon may need to perform another amputation to remove infected tissue.

After an amputation procedure, the patient spends several days in recovery. The medical staff monitors the amputation site, and the patient receives pain and antibiotic medication. The patient also begins rehabilitation, when physically able, to become accustomed to life without the amputated limb. Psychological rehabilitation to deal with the emotional trauma that comes with the surgery is sometimes required.

Many patients report experiencing a phenomenon called phantom limb or phantom pain. This phenomenon usually involves the patient sensing that the amputated limb is still attached to his or her body. The patient may even feel that the limb is itching, arching or burning. Rehabilitation usually helps patients deal with this and other side effects.

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