Amputation

An amputation is the surgical removal of part of the body, like an arm or leg.

Why amputation may be needed

An amputation may be needed if:

  • you have a severe infection in your limb
  • your limb has been affected by gangrene (often as a result of peripheral arterial disease)
  • there’s serious trauma to your limb, like a crush or blast wound
  • your limb is deformed and has limited movement and function

Assessment before surgery

Unless you need an emergency amputation, you’ll be fully assessed before surgery. These assessments include a:

  • medical examination
  • psychological assessment
  • environmental assessment
  • review of your healthy limb

You can also be introduced to a:

  • physiotherapist
  • prosthetist
  • someone who’s had a similar amputation

How amputations are carried out

Amputations can be carried out under:

Once the limb has been removed, your surgeon may:

  • shorten and smooth the bone in your remaining limb so that it’s covered by enough soft tissue and muscle
  • stitch the remaining muscle to the bones to strengthen the remaining limb (myodesis)

These techniques can help improve the function of the remaining limb. They can also reduce the risk of complications.

After the amputation, your wound will be sealed with stitches or surgical staples. It’ll be covered with a bandage and a tube may be placed under your skin to drain away any excess fluid. The bandage will usually need to be kept in place for a few days to reduce the risk of infection.

What happens after surgery

After surgery, you’ll usually be given oxygen through a mask and fluids through a drip. You’ll get these for the first few days while you recover on the ward.

A small flexible tube (a urinary catheter) may be placed in your bladder during surgery. This drains away urine. It means you won’t need to worry about going to the toilet for the first few days after surgery.

The site of the operation may be painful, so you’ll be given painkillers if you need them. Tell a member of your care team if the painkillers aren’t working. You may need a larger dose or a stronger painkiller. A small tube may be used to deliver local anaesthetic to the nerves in your stump to help reduce pain.

Your physiotherapist will also teach you some exercises. These help to prevent blood clots and improve your blood supply while you recover.

Compression garments

You’ll notice swelling (oedema) of your stump after surgery. This is normal and it may continue after you’ve been discharged.

Using a compression garment will help with swelling and the shape of the stump. It may also reduce phantom pain and help support the limb.

You’ll be fitted with a compression garment once your wound has healed. You should wear it every day, but take it off at bedtime. You should be given at least 2 garments, which you should wash regularly.

Further information on recovering from an amputation

Going home after an amputation

How long it takes before you’re ready to go home will depend on:

  • the type of amputation you’ve had
  • your general state of health

An occupational therapist may visit your home before you’re discharged. They’ll look at whether your home needs to be adapted to make it more accessible. For example, you may need a wheelchair ramp or a stair lift.

It can take several months before you’re fitted with a prosthetic limb (if you’re a suitable for one). This means you may be given a wheelchair to help you get around if you’ve had a lower limb amputation.

Follow-up

You may may need to attend a follow-up appointment a few weeks after you’ve been discharged. This’ll allow you to discuss how well you’re coping at home and if you need more help, support or equipment.

At your appointment, you may also get details of your nearest amputee support group. These include healthcare professionals and people living with an amputation.

Further information on recovering from an amputation

Complications

The risk of complications from amputation can be influenced by:

  • your age
  • the type of amputation you’ve had
  • your general health
  • whether you’ve had a planned or emergency amputation

Complications associated with having an amputation include:

Further help and support

Being told you need to have a limb amputated can be a devastating and frightening experience. Adjusting to life after an amputation can be challenging. But, many people enjoy a good quality of life once they manage to adapt.

You may find it useful to contact a support group for people living with amputations. 

You may find it useful to contact a support group for people living with amputations. You can get information and advice from:

Further information on prosthetics

Last updated:
13 April 2023