What is an Amputee?

Cover Photo by Polina Tankilevitch On Pexel

An amputee is a person who has undergone an amputation or limb loss. Some amputations occur surgically and others through trauma. Amputation while lower limb amputation is most frequent; amputations can occur to arms, hands and fingers too.

Globally, around one million amputations occur every year. Recovery times can vary from months to several years, depending on the individual and the type of injury. And while some amputees wear prosthetics, others may not either by choice or because of the pain prosthesis can cause. Phantom pains, blisters, higher blood pressure and emotional trauma, can also impact recovery among other factors.

What are the reasons for amputation?

There are many reasons for amputation. Some may be sudden, such as burns or accidents. Other amputations may come from a longer-term problem. Amputations can be elective, often, patients are given the option to amputate or go through surgery to attempt to save their limb.

Some reasons for amputation include:

  • Poor circulation 
  • Tumours
  • Serious accidents
  • Serious burns
  • Frostbite
  • Diseases, infections or gangrene
  • Limited mobility that impacts quality of life

What Happens During a Surgical Amputation?

For most amputation surgeries, a full assessment is undertaken. Amputation can be hard on the body and mind but can be a better alternative to multiple surgeries over a longer period of time. In a case where both surgery or amputation are viable options, a doctor, consultant or surgeon will give the information for both pathways, but the decision for which route to go down will be down to the patient.

On the team for amputation are often Orthopaedic surgeons, plastic surgeons, nurses and more. The operations are usually under general anaesthetic, and the team will often cut through the bone or separate bones from joints in order to remove the limb.

Most amputees will stay in hospital for around 7 days to a month in the UK. Infections can complicate the process, so amputees must be open and honest with their doctors and nurses about any symptoms, such as temperature, discomfort or things that do not seem “right”.

What Happens During Recovery?

Recovery from an amputation can be quick, or it can be a long, arduous process. It very much varies from person to person. 

Immediately after your surgery, the surgeon and plastic surgeon will speak to the patient to talk through how the operation and a few next steps. Usually, this will happen after the family is allowed in so someone in the family can write down important points. Amputees are often still under heavy medication which will impede concentration, plus they may be dealing with the overwhelm of the process.

Many patients will receive pain management drugs, such as morphine and nerve blockers, to help with nerve pain. Often patients will suffer from phantom pain in their missing limb. There are many strategies for easing the effects of phantom pain, such as rubbing the other limb. 

Most hospitals will try to get patients up and moving as quickly as possible. Some wards or hospitals will have their own shops or kitchenettes where patients can try to use everyday skills with their missing limb, such as making tea or shopping for snacks. 

Many amputees will have access to a physiotherapist both in and out of hospital. Physios aim to ensure the body is prepared for prosthetics and that there’s no muscle wastage in the meantime. Lower limb amputees will be encouraged to relearn how to walk, climb stairs and balance on a prosthetic. Upper limb amputees are encouraged to learn how to use their stump to dress, steady themselves on stairs, and open packages. 

Another tactic many limb loss specialists will use is a Nintendo Wii. Wii Fit boards help lower-limb amputees regain their balance and understand how much pressure to apply on each side. Other Wii games help upper limb amputees react quickly with their arms. 

Most amputees can return home with small changes to their home. Others may need a complete change to their home. Many specialists can help with this, and charities can cover the costs. 

Apputee is an app that helps amputees by giving a step-by-step-guide recovery and a way to track progress. Find out more about Apputee.

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