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Understanding Leg Amputation: Surgery for a Medical Condition

You’ve been told by your healthcare provider that you need to have a leg amputation. This is a surgery to remove part or all of your leg. It is done because tissue in the leg is diseased and can’t be healed. Or it may be needed to prevent the disease from spreading farther into your body. The purpose of the surgery is to restore your ability to function. This is because removing the diseased part of your leg can improve your total health.

Why Amputation Is Needed

An amputation is done only after healthcare providers have tried to treat the problem in other ways. They have determined that your body can’t heal the tissue damage in your leg. The tissue may be badly infected or even dead. The most common causes of tissue damage include:

  • Foot ulcers (sores) due to diabetes

  • Reduced blood flow caused by peripheral artery disease (PAD)

  • Tumors due to cancer

  • Severe infection resulting from wounds

About the Surgery

Your surgeon will save as much of your limb as possible. This may include joints, such as the knee. But you may not know before the surgery how much of the leg will remain. Sometimes, another surgery is needed later to remove more of the leg. This is done to preserve your health and improve healing.

After the Surgery
Man lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. Healthcare provider is standing next to bed talking to man.
Talk with your surgeon about the care you’ll need after surgery.

When you wake up, you’ll be on pain medication to help keep you comfortable. You’ll have a cast or other form of pressure dressing on your leg. This helps control swelling and aid healing. You may begin physical therapy (PT) soon after surgery, depending on your health. PT strengthens your muscles and helps to prevent muscle or joint tightening. You’ll also learn how to safely transfer between your bed and other surfaces, such as a chair. This helps prevent falls and protects your wound while it heals. When you’re ready, you may be able to move around using a walker or crutches. And when your wound has healed, you may be able to be fitted for an artificial limb.

Living with Limb Loss

Losing a limb is life-changing. It’s normal to feel upset, sad, scared, angry, or even relieved after surgery. You’ll likely have a lot of questions or concerns about your future. You may wish to talk to an expert on emotional changes, such as a psychologist. Keep in mind that the goal of this surgery is to restore function. This is so your health can improve and you can live your life more fully.

Long-Term Concerns

Health problems that led to amputation can still affect your intact (natural) leg. Work closely with your healthcare team to manage your overall health. Stay as active as you can. But keep a close watch on your intact foot and leg. Look carefully for wounds that don’t heal or areas that change color or lose feeling. Take all medications as directed by your healthcare provider. This can help keep you from having to go through another surgery.

Notes for Family and Friends

When someone you care about has an amputation, it may come as a shock. You may wonder if your loved one will be able to care for him- or herself. You may not know how to react to the changes to his or her body. These are normal concerns. It will take time for the whole family to adjust. Keep in mind that limb loss does not change who a person is. Right now, your loved one will need your complete support. Take an active role in his or her care. Help to collect and remember information, such as medications and appointments with the healthcare provider. Most importantly, your family member or friend needs your understanding and patience. Don’t forget to listen. Let him or her tell you what kind of support is needed.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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