What are amputations?

Amputation is defined as the surgical removal of a limb or partial limb if other procedures have failed or are not possible due to the patient’s deteriorating health.

Nowadays, modern medicine is trying to avoid as much as possible these disabling treatments for patients. This treatment should not be confused with disarticulation, in which only the muscular structures and ligaments are removed, nor with congenital amputation, in which a limb does not develop due to a genetic anomaly.

Why are they performed?

Amputation is necessary in three very specific types of cases, namely:

  1. When it is the only option to remove a malignant tumor.
  2. As a consequence of a serious trauma (e.g. a traffic accident).
  3. To save a limb from a tissue through which blood is no longer circulating and which is in the process of gangrene. The latter case in particular is caused by diseases such as arterial embolism, diabetes mellitus, frequent infections, Buerger’s disease, Raynaud’s disease or frostbite.

Although at least 90% of amputations are related to diabetes-related diseases and are performed on the feet or legs, treatment can also be applied to the arms, hands or fingers.

Today’s prostheses allow an increasingly autonomous life.

What does it consist of?

The amputation procedure is preceded by a precise calculation by the specialist of the most suitable point to make the cut. In fact, it is necessary to find the point where there is greater blood circulation to facilitate proper healing of the area.

The procedure itself, on the other hand, consists of several phases: first, the blood flow in the limb must be measured and blocked to prevent bleeding. Then the muscle tissue is divided to allow the bone to be cut with an oscillating saw. Finally, surgeons will suture the remaining structures.

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The most common problem with amputation is the development of an incurable infection that forces the operation to be repeated at a higher point on the limb, further aggravating the patient’s situation.

Despite the trauma of limb loss, there are now specific prostheses that allow amputees not to become disabled and to continue walking.

Preparing for amputations

It should be noted that amputation is not an option in patients with infections, cardiac problems, advanced diabetes mellitus or reduced blood coagulation, so all appropriate tests should be performed to exclude their presence.

Postoperative recovery

After amputation, the specialist surgeon prescribes analgesic and antibiotic-based medications to prevent the occurrence of a possible infection. Rehabilitation should also begin within two days to ensure adequate movement of the residual limb and prosthesis. The hospital stay varies depending on the site of the amputation and, in the most severe cases, when the cut is made above the knees, it can last up to a few weeks.

The entire rehabilitation process is neither physically nor psychologically easy, so patients often also need the help of a psychologist or support groups along the way. It is also not uncommon for patients to suffer from the so-called “phantom limb” syndrome or, conversely, to still perceive the amputated part or even pain in it.