Understanding Leg Amputation: Surgery After Injury

Amputation is a surgery to remove part or all of your leg. It is done because tissue in the leg is damaged and can’t be healed. Your healthcare provider may have already tried to save your damaged limb. Sometimes, though, the damage from the injury is too severe. In this case, the surgery is performed right away. Either way, the purpose of the surgery is to restore your ability to function. This is because removing the damaged part of your leg can improve your total health.

Why amputation is needed

The healthcare provider has determined that your body can’t heal the severe injury to your leg. The injury may include damage to bones, nerves, and blood vessels. Some common causes of severe injuries are:

  • Car or motorcycle accidents

  • Farm accidents

  • War injuries

  • Industrial injuries

  • Falls

About the surgery

The 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. Or, several surgeries may be needed to safely complete the amputation and close the wound. This is done to preserve your health and improve healing.

After the surgery

When you wake up, you’ll be on pain medicine to help keep you comfortable. You’ll have a cast or other form of 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. However, this may take some time  because the swelling in your leg must go down for the prosthesis to fit well.

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. See below for where you can find extra support.

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 himself 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 medicines and healthcare providers' appointments. Most important, 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. To learn more about adjusting to limb loss, see below. 

Resources for support

To learn more about limb loss and to get support, contact:

  • Amputee Coalition