"Amputated" redirects here. For the band, see Amputated (band).

J. McKnight, who lost his limbs in a railway accident in 1865, was the second recorded survivor of a simultaneous triple amputation.
Classification and external resources
Specialty emergency medicine
ICD-10 T14.7
MeSH D000673

Amputation is the removal of a limb by trauma, medical illness, or surgery. As a surgical measure, it is used to control pain or a disease process in the affected limb, such as malignancy or gangrene. In some cases, it is carried out on individuals as a preventative surgery for such problems. A special case is that of congenital amputation, a congenital disorder, where fetal limbs have been cut off by constrictive bands. In some countries, amputation of the hands, feet or other body parts is or was used as a form of punishment for people who committed crimes. Amputation has also been used as a tactic in war and acts of terrorism; it may also occur as a war injury. In some cultures and religions, minor amputations or mutilations are considered a ritual accomplishment. Unlike some non-mammalian animals (such as lizards that shed their tails, salamanders that can regrow many missing body parts, and hydras, flatworms, and starfish that can regrow entire bodies from small fragments), once removed, human extremities do not grow back, unlike portions of some organs, such as the liver. A transplant or a prosthesis are the only options for recovering the loss.

In the US, the majority of new amputations occur due to complications of the vascular system (the blood vessels), especially from diabetes. Between 1988 and 1996, there were an average of 133,735 hospital discharges for amputation per year in the US.[1]


The word amputation is derived from the Latin amputare, "to cut away", from ambi- ("about", "around") and putare ("to prune"). The Latin word has never been recorded in a surgical context, being reserved to indicate punishment for criminals. The English word "amputation" was first applied to surgery in the 17th century, possibly first in Peter Lowe's A discourse of the Whole Art of Chirurgerie (published in either 1597 or 1612); his work was derived from 16th-century French texts and early English writers also used the words "extirpation" (16th-century French texts tended to use extirper), "disarticulation", and "dismemberment" (from the Old French desmembrer and a more common term before the 17th century for limb loss or removal), or simply "cutting", but by the end of the 17th century "amputation" had come to dominate as the accepted medical term.


Leg amputations

A diagram showing an above the knee amputation

Leg amputations can be divided into 2 broad categories:

Arm amputations

The 18th century guide to amputations

Other amputations

Hemicorporectomy, or amputation at the waist, and decapitation, or amputation at the neck, are the most radical amputations.

Genital modification and mutilation may involve amputating tissue, although not necessarily as a result of injury or disease.


In some rare cases when a person has become trapped in a deserted place, with no means of communication or hope of rescue, the victim has amputated his or her own limb:

Rarely, self-amputation is performed for criminal or political purposes.

Body integrity identity disorder is a psychological condition in which an individual feels compelled to remove one or more of their body parts, usually a limb. In some cases, that individual may take drastic measures to remove the offending appendages, either by causing irreparable damage to the limb so that medical intervention cannot save the limb, or by causing the limb to be severed.


Circulatory disorders


Transfemoral amputation due to liposarcoma


Three fingers from a soldier's right hand were traumatically amputated during World War I.



Athletic performance

Legal punishment

Surgical amputation


Curved knives such as this one were used, in the past, for some kinds of amputations.

The first step is ligating the supplying artery and vein, to prevent hemorrhage (bleeding). The muscles are transected, and finally the bone is sawed through with an oscillating saw. Sharp and rough edges of the bone(s) are filed down, skin and muscle flaps are then transposed over the stump, occasionally with the insertion of elements to attach a prosthesis.

Traumatic amputation

Traumatic amputation is the partial or total avulsion of a part of a body during a serious accident, like traffic, labor, or combat.[12][13][14]

Traumatic amputation of a human limb, either partial or total, creates the immediate danger of death from blood loss.[15]

Orthopedic surgeons often assess the severity of different injuries using the Mangled Extremity Severity Score. Given different clinical and situational factors, they can predict the likelihood of amputation. This is especially useful for emergency physicians to quickly evaluate patients and decide on consultations.[16]


Private Lewis Francis was wounded July 21, 1861, at the First Battle of Bull Run by a bayonet to the knee.

Traumatic amputation is uncommon in humans (1 per 20,804 population per year). Loss of limb usually happens immediately during the accident, but sometimes a few days later after medical complications. Statistically the most common causes of traumatic amputations are:[13]


The development of the science of microsurgery over last 40 years has provided several treatment options for a traumatic amputation, depending on the patient's specific trauma and clinical situation:



Amputations are usually traumatic experiences. They can reduce the quality of life for patients in addition to being expensive. In the USA, a typical prosthetic limb costs in the range of $10,000–15,000 according to the American Diabetic Association. In some populations, preventing amputations is a critical task.

Methods in preventing amputation, limb-sparing techniques, depend on the problems that might cause amputations to be necessary. Chronic infections, often caused by diabetes or decubitus ulcers in bedridden patients, are common causes of infections that lead to gangrene, which would then necessitate amputation.

There are two key challenges: first, many patients have impaired circulation in their extremities, and second, they have difficulty curing infections in limbs with poor vasculation (blood circulation).

Crush injuries where there is extensive tissue damage and poor circulation also benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). The high level of oxygenation and revascularization speed up recovery times and prevent infections.

A study found that the patented method called Circulator Boot achieved significant results in prevention of amputation in patients with diabetes and arterioscleorosis.[21][22] Another study found it also effective for healing limb ulcers caused by peripheral vascular disease.[23] The boot checks the heart rhythm and compresses the limb between heartbeats; the compression helps cure the wounds in the walls of veins and arteries, and helps to push the blood back to the heart.[24]

For victims of trauma, advances in microsurgery in the 1970s have made replantations of severed body parts possible.

The establishment of laws, rules and guidelines, and employment of modern equipment help protect people from traumatic amputations.[15]


The individual may experience psychological trauma and emotional discomfort. The stump will remain an area of reduced mechanical stability. Limb loss can present significant or even drastic practical limitations.

A large proportion of amputees (50–80%) experience the phenomenon of phantom limbs;[25] they feel body parts that are no longer there. These limbs can itch, ache, burn, feel tense, dry or wet, locked in or trapped or they can feel as if they are moving. Some scientists believe it has to do with a kind of neural map that the brain has of the body, which sends information to the rest of the brain about limbs regardless of their existence. Phantom sensations and phantom pain may also occur after the removal of body parts other than the limbs, e.g. after amputation of the breast, extraction of a tooth (phantom tooth pain) or removal of an eye (phantom eye syndrome).

A similar phenomenon is unexplained sensation in a body part unrelated to the amputated limb. It has been hypothesized that the portion of the brain responsible for processing stimulation from amputated limbs, being deprived of input, expands into the surrounding brain, (Phantoms in the Brain: V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee) such that an individual who has had an arm amputated will experience unexplained pressure or movement on his face or head.

In many cases,the phantom limb aids in adaptation to a prosthesis, as it permits the person to experience proprioception of the prosthetic limb. To support improved resistance or usability, comfort or healing, some type of stump socks may be worn instead of or as part of wearing a prosthesis.

Another side effect can be heterotopic ossification, especially when a bone injury is combined with a head injury. The brain signals the bone to grow instead of scar tissue to form, and nodules and other growth can interfere with prosthetics and sometimes require further operations. This type of injury has been especially common among soldiers wounded by improvised explosive devices in the Iraq war.[26]

Due to technologic advances in prosthetics, many amputees live active lives with little restriction. Organizations such as the Challenged Athletes Foundation have been developed to give amputees the opportunity to be involved in athletics and adaptive sports such as Amputee Soccer.


See also


  1. "Amputee Coalition Factsheet". 2012-07-23. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  2. Pinzur, M.S.; Stuck, RM; Sage, R; Hunt, N; Rabinovich, Z (September 2003). "Syme ankle disarticulation in patients with diabetes". J Bone Joint Surg Am. 85–A (9): 1667–1672. PMID 12954823.
  3. Man Pinned Under Tree Amputates His Leg Archived August 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. "Farmer Cuts Off Right Arm With Pocket Knife to Save Life". Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  5. "Farmer Describes Cutting Off Own Arm". 2007-11-24. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  6. Kennedy, J. Michael (May 9, 2003). "CMU grad describes cutting off his arm to save his life". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  7. "Arm trapped, and fearing fire, tough miner knew what to do". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18.
  8. "Bombing suspect's brother cuts hand off with saw". March 9, 1998. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18.
  9. RTE: Aussie Rules star has finger removed Archived August 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Australian Rugby Union (2006-10-17). "Tawake undergoes surgery to remove finger". Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  11. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2008-01-07). "UNHCR article on amputation as a punishment in Iran". Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  12. Current Surgical Diagnosis and Treatment: "Amputations", editions Lange, USA, 2009
  13. 1 2 3 4 Harry Gouvas: "Accidents and Massive Disasters", editions of Greek Red Cross, 2000
  14. Neil Watson: "Hand Injuries and Infections" Cower Medical Publishing, London, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-906923-80-8
  15. 1 2 Harry Gouvas: "Accidents and massive Disasters", Editions of Greek Red Cross, 2000
  16. Johansen K, Daines M, Howey T, Helfet D, Hansen ST Jr (1990). "Objective criteria accurately predict amputation following lower extremity trauma.". J Trauma. 30 (5): 568–72; discussion 572–3. doi:10.1097/00005373-199005000-00007. PMID 2342140.
  17. "Scuba Tanks as Lethal Weapons". Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  18. Neil Watson: "Hand Injuries and Infections"Cower Medical Publishing,ISBN 0-906923-80-8
  19. 1 2 American Statistical Association: Amputations in USA, 2000
  20. Weiss AJ, Elixhauser A, Steiner C. Readmissions to U.S. Hospitals by Procedure, 2010. HCUP Statistical Brief #154. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. April 2013.
  21. Richard S. Dillon (May 1997). "Fifteen Years of Experience in Treating 2177 Episodes of Foot and Leg Lessions with the Circulator Boot". Angiology. 48 (5 (part 2)): S17–S34. doi:10.1177/000331979704800503. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18.
  22. Richard S. Dillon; Yai, H; Maruhashi, J (May 1997). "FPatient Assessment and Examples of a Method of Treatment. Use of the Circulator Boot in Peripherical Vascular Disease". Angiology. 48 (5 (part 2)): S35–S58. doi:10.1177/000331979704800504. PMID 9158380. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18.
  23. Vella A, Carlson LA, Blier B, Felty C, Kuiper JD, Rooke TW (2000). "Circulator boot therapy alters the natural history of ischemic limb ulceration.". Vasc. Med. 5 (1): 21–25. doi:10.1191/135886300671427847. PMID 10737152.
  24. Circulator Boot at Mayo Clinic 1:08–1:32
  25. Heidi Schultz (January 2005). "The Science of Things". National Geographic Magazine. Archived from the original on September 6, 2008.
  26. Ryan, Joan (March 25, 2006). "War without end / Damaged soldiers start their agonizing recoveries". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18.

Further reading

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