Amputation is the surgical removal of a limb or body part. It is performed to remove diseased tissue or relieve pain.


Arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers, and toes can all be amputated. In the United States, there are approximately

In an above-the-knee amputation, three incisions are made (A). First the skin and muscle layers are cut (B). The major blood vessels are clamped and severed (C). The bone is cut with a special saw (D). Finally, the muscles are stitched over the bone, and the skin is closed over the wound (E). (Illustration by GGS Inc.)
In an above-the-knee amputation, three incisions are made (A). First the skin and muscle layers are cut (B). The major blood vessels are clamped and severed (C). The bone is cut with a special saw (D). Finally, the muscles are stitched over the bone, and the skin is closed over the wound (E). (
Illustration by GGS Inc.
350,000 amputees, with some 135,000 new amputations occurring each year. The number of amputees worldwide is not currently known.

Here in the United States, the most common causes of amputation of the lower extremity are: disease (70%), trauma (22%), congenital or birth defects (4%), and tumors (4%). As for upper extremity amputation, it is usually performed because of trauma or birth defect. Seldom is disease as great a contributing factor. The causes of amputation differ significantly in various countries. For example, countries with a recent history of warfare and civil unrest will have a higher incidence of amputations, due to war itself or its technology (landmines, uncontrolled ordnance, etc).

Among the diseases and conditions that may lead to amputation of an extremity, the most prevalent are:

More than 90% of amputations performed in the United States are due to circulatory complications of diabetes. Sixty to eighty percent of these operations involve the legs.


Most amputations involve small body parts such as a finger, rather than an entire limb. About 65,000 amputations are performed in the United States each year.

In the United States, there are approximately 350,000 amputees, with some 135,000 new amputations occurring each year. The number of amputees worldwide is not currently known.


Amputations can be either planned or emergency procedures. Injury and arterial embolisms are the main reasons for emergency amputations. The operation is performed under regional or general anesthesia by a general or orthopedic surgeon in a hospital operating room .

Details of the operation vary slightly depending on what part is to be removed. All amputations consist of a two-fold surgical procedure: to remove diseased tissue so that the wound will heal cleanly, and to construct a stump that will allow the attachment of a prosthesis or artificial replacement part.

The surgeon makes an incision around the part to be amputated. The part is removed, and the bone is smoothed. A flap is constructed of muscle, connective tissue, and skin to cover the raw end of the bone. The flap is closed over the bone with sutures (surgical stitches) that remain in place for about one month. Often, a rigid dressing or cast is applied that stays in place for about two weeks.


Before an amputation is performed, extensive testing is done to determine the proper level of amputation. The goal of the surgeon is to find the place where healing is most likely to be complete, while allowing the maximum amount of limb to remain for effective rehabilitation.

The greater the blood flow through an area, the more likely healing is to occur. These tests are designed to measure blood flow through the limb. Several or all of them can be done to help choose the proper level of amputation.

No one test is highly predictive of healing, but taken together, the results give the surgeon an excellent idea of the best place to amputate.


After amputation, medication is prescribed for pain, and patients are treated with antibiotics to discourage infection. The stump is moved often to encourage good circulation. Physical therapy and rehabilitation are started as soon as possible, usually within 48 hours. Studies have shown that there is a positive relationship between early rehabilitation and effective functioning of the stump and prosthesis. Length of stay in the hospital depends on the severity of the amputation and the general health of the amputee, but ranges from several days to two weeks.

Rehabilitation is a long, arduous process, especially for above the knee amputees. Twice daily physical therapy is not uncommon. In addition, psychological counseling is an important part of rehabilitation. Many people feel a sense of loss and grief when they lose a body part. Others are bothered by phantom limb syndrome, where they feel as if the amputated part is still in place. They may even feel pain in this limb that does not exist. Many amputees benefit from joining self-help groups and meeting others who are also living with amputation. Addressing the emotional aspects of amputation often speeds the physical rehabilitation process.


Amputation is major surgery. All the risks associated with the administration of anesthesia exist, along with the possibility of heavy blood loss and the development of blood clots. Infection is of special concern to amputees. Infection rates in amputations average 15%. If the stump becomes infected, it is necessary to remove the prosthesis and sometimes to amputate a second time at a higher level.

Failure of the stump to heal is another major complication. Nonhealing is usually due to an inadequate blood supply. The rate of nonhealing varies from 5–30% depending on the facility. Centers that specialize in amputation usually have the lowest rates of complication.

Persistent pain in the stump or pain in the phantom limb is experienced by most amputees to some degree. Treatment of phantom limb pain is difficult. One final complication is that many amputees give up on the rehabilitation process and discard their prosthesis. Better fitting prosthetics and earlier rehabilitation have decreased the incidence of this problem.

Normal results

The five year survival rate for all lower extremity amputees is less than 50%. For diabetic amputees, the rate is less than 40%. Up to 50% of people who have one leg amputated because of diabetes will lose the other within five years. Amputees who walk using a prosthesis have a less stable gait. Three to five percent of these people fall and break bones because of this instability. Although the fractures can be treated, about half the amputees who suffer them then remain wheelchair bound.


Alternatives to amputation depend on the medical cause underlying the decision to amputate and the degree of medical urgency. In some cases, drug therapy may be considered as an alternative.

For example, one serious complication of diabetes is the development of foot ulcers that often lead to amputation. Some studies have suggested non-surgical treatment of diabetic foot ulcers with a new, recombinant drug (Becaplermin/Regranex). Combined with competent ulcer nursing, the drug leads to fewer amputations compared to the alternative of ulcer nursing on its own.



Meier, R. H. Functional Restoration of Adults and Children With Upper Extremity Amputation. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2003.

Murdoch, G. and A. Bennett Wilson. A Primer on Amputations and Artificial Limbs. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Pub. Ltd., 1998.

Watts, H. and M. Williams. Who Is Amelia?: Caring for Children With Limb Difference. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 1998.


Buzato, M. A., E. C. Tribulatto, S. M. Costa, W G. Zorn, and B. van Bellen. "Major amputations of the lower leg. The patients two years later." Acta Chirurgica Belgica 102 (August 2002): 248–252.

Cull, D. L., S. M. Taylor, S. E. Hamontree, E. M. Langan, B. A. Snyder, T. M. Sullivan, and J. R. Youkey. "A reappraisal of a modified through-knee amputation in patients with peripheral vascular disease." American Journal of Surgery 182 (July 2001): 44–48.

Gerstein, H. and D. Hunt. "Foot ulcers and amputations in diabetes." Clinical Evidence 7 (June 2002): 521–528.

Hagberg, K. and R. Branemark. "Consequences of non-vascular trans-femoral amputation: a survey of quality of life, prosthetic use and problems." Prosthetic Orthotherapy International 25 (December 2001): 186–194.

Kazmers, A., A. J. Perkins and L. A. Jacobs. "Major lower extremity amputation in Veterans Affairs medical centers." Annals of Vascular Surgery 14 (May 2000): 216–222.

Oyibo, S. O., E. B. Jude, I. Tarawneh, H. C. Nguyen, D. G. Armstrong, L. B. Harkless, and A. J. Boulton. "The effects of ulcer size and site, patient's age, sex and type and duration of diabetes on the outcome of diabetic foot ulcers." Diabetic Medicine 18 (February 2001): 133–138.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 6300 North River Road, Rosemont, Illinois 60018-4262. Phone (847) 823-7186. .

American College of Surgeons. 633 N. Saint Clar st., Chicago, IL 60611-3211. (312) 202-5000. .

American Diabetes Association. 1701 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311. (800) 342-2383. .

National Amputation Foundation. 40 Church Street, Malverne, NY 11565. (516) 887-3600. .


The Amputee Newswire. .

Amputation Prevention Global Resource Center Page. .

Cripworld Guide to Amputation. .

Tish Davidson, A.M. Monique Laberge, Ph.D.


Amputations are performed in a hospital, usually by an orthopaedic surgeon. Orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, care and treatment of patients with disorders of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and skin. These elements make up the musculoskeletal system. The physicians who specialize in this area are called orthopedic surgeons or orthopedists. Orthopedic surgery is a specialty of immense variety, and includes amputation surgery.


User Contributions:

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Feb 13, 2008 @ 10:22 pm
Very useful information.

Thank you very much.


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Feb 24, 2009 @ 1:01 am
Please tell me there is an alternative to diabetic amputation of the foot due to starting poor circulation and no other symptoms. There is a problem with the areterial circulation above the foot. Can you replace these arteries with artificial ones or graft from another area of the body? Please call DESPERATE!!!!!

Julia 2147895071 Bless you!
Chester Deaver
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Jul 20, 2009 @ 10:10 am
Hello, My name is chester and I am an amputee having lost my leg in 2007 above the knee. I am 70 years old and doing great! I have the new otto bock computer leg and I am even riding a bicycle now! I feel well blessed and want to be able to help other amputees in dealing with their loss. I am currently working with veterans to help them to adjust to their loss of limbs, and so far it has been so rewarding to me to see the progress. If I can be helpful to anyone, please feel free to contact me at anytime.Thank you and I wish you the best.

Chester Deaver
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Sep 5, 2010 @ 9:09 am
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May 28, 2011 @ 4:04 am
hello sir,
my name is sachin kumar.reason is that behind me,my father age is 45-50 he is not speak and body is so tied and weight is also low... .when he speak after that he not speak u given me suggest...he is diabetics also...
my mail
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Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:00 am
My diabetic husband is having the last toe on his right leg amputated because of a shoe injury. How can He speed up the healing prosess? How long should he lie in bed?
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Sep 22, 2011 @ 9:09 am
I need a toe on my foot amputated, is that possible or must I live with it?
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Nov 4, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
My husband had a leg amputation below the knee back on july 13. He now has a wound with a very thick scab on it , that does not seem to want to come off. He does have diabetes is this taking so long because of that and will he be able to get a prostesis leg.
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Nov 14, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
Hello my name is Al, my father in law got an infection on one of his toes.When he went to his doctor, he told him it looked like they may need to amputate if antibiotics didn't better his condition.Unfortunately, his condition worsened and amputation became inevitable.My in law's toe next to the smallest toe on his left foot was amputated.He was admitted to a nursing home for his recovery where his foot woresened more.Two weeks after surgery his orthopedic doctor visited him and even though he was continuosly given introvenious antibiotics,his entire foot began to turn purple and recommended amputation up to below the knee.He told my father in law that he could probably just cut a part of his foot above his toes, but to make sure all if any infection is left behind, he should get an amputation below the knee.I talked to my father in law and asked him if he feels any sensation on his foot, and he replied yes. He does need surgery again, but we think his doctor may be on the wrong path as far as such a larger amputation. My father in law does suffer from non-insulin diabetes,in other words his primary physician has him on a low/no sugar diet,to control his blood sugar level,and at times prescribed a pill form of insulin but only for short amounts of times, then take him off them as he improved. Is ther any thing else we can do?
paul jones
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Jul 31, 2012 @ 1:01 am
what is done to the end of the amputated bone to stop bone growth happening? ive got to have approx 2" taken off my stump due to this poblem. not able to use my prosetic leg because ov pain is getting me down enough.having to go through the same opp again is putting years on me.i just wounder if something is done to the end ov the bone to stop bone growth? or will i have to have another opp in another 3 years?.
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Aug 1, 2012 @ 2:02 am
Dear Sir,

My father age of 68 to 70 lost of two above the knee legs due to the sugar is there any solution he need to walk so please help me and if its possible please let me know the cost for the legs
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Oct 19, 2012 @ 1:01 am
My mum is a double amputee its been 2yrs now and she his still having pains in her stumps, she has only been given co-codimol which does not have any affect, is there another pain releif she could take
debra mcmaster
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Jul 6, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
i have a long store but in a nut shell my dr. wants to amputate my leg. my heel is broken and i have an infection in the heel bone to. HELP
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Jun 24, 2015 @ 8:08 am
Would like to know how long does it take to do an AKA AND COULD IT BE DONE WITH Spinal anesthesia

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