Amputation injuries are surprisingly common. About 185,000 amputations happen in the U.S. every year. Many of these involve a finger or toe and cause minimal disruption to the amputee.
More severe amputations involving hands, feet, arms, and legs happen as well. Over half of these amputations result from diseases like cancer, diabetes, and vascular disease. But about 45% result from trauma.
Read on to learn about how amputation injuries happen and their potential long-term complications.
Table of Contents
What is the Musculoskeletal System’s Function and Structure?
Your musculoskeletal system gives your body structure and strength. Your musculoskeletal system includes bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. All these structural tissues need oxygen to survive.
Cells need oxygen for cell metabolism. Without oxygen, cells cannot produce energy, and they will die.
The blood in your circulatory system delivers oxygen to the cells of your musculoskeletal system. Blood vessels run through your muscles and bones, feeding them. Your bones produce new blood cells to replace old blood cells. This interaction between your musculoskeletal and circulatory systems keeps both systems healthy.
Your nerves control your muscles. Motor signals from your brain travel down your nerves to your muscles. There, the signals tell the muscles to contract or relax. By pulling on the bones through tendons, your muscles move your body.
The nerves use ions to transmit signals. Like electrical wires, severed nerves cannot carry nerve signals. If you lose the nerve signals to a limb, you risk seriously damaging it since you cannot feel pain or heat. And if you have lost motor function, you cannot use the limb.
What Types of Amputation Injuries Can Occur?
Amputations happen in two ways:
Doctors amputate when you suffer tissue damage that will cause limb death. By removing the limb, you avoid gangrene and the release of toxic chemicals from the dead and dying cells.
Some diseases can lead to damage that requires amputation. Vascular disease and diabetes can reduce the circulation to your limbs. Starved of oxygen and nutrients, the cells in these limbs die. Amputating these limbs can save your life.
Trauma can also cause such severe damage that doctors surgically amputate the limb. This can happen due to damage to the blood vessels.
Sometimes the major blood vessels sustain damage surgeons cannot repair, such as when they get crushed or torn. Even when surgeons can repair major blood vessels, they often cannot reconnect all of the smaller blood vessels that feed a severely damaged limb.
Suppose that a motorcycle accident shredded the blood vessels in your leg. Surgeons might remove the leg since it will likely die without blood supply.
Doctors can also amputate due to severe structural damage. When a bone shatters, surgeons need to reconstruct the bone with plates and screws. But if the bone fragments are too small or missing, doctors cannot rebuild the bone.
Traumatic amputation happens when your accident severs or tears your limb from your body. Most lower-limb amputations result from diseases like diabetes. But most upper limb amputations result from traffic accidents and workplace accidents. And many of these upper limb accidents happen when the limb gets severed traumatically.
For example, a workplace accident involving tools, construction equipment, or factory machinery can cut or tear a limb from your body. You can also get trapped in a machine or between a vehicle and a fixed object, and rescuers might amputate to free you.
Doctors can repair some traumatic amputations.
But sometimes, they cannot reattach an amputated limb due to:
- Tissue damage in the limb or the stump
- Tissue death in the limb due to the amount of time that passed since the accident
- Contamination of the stump or limb with chemicals or debris
- The expected loss of function due to the location of the amputation
Muscles can survive six to eight hours without blood. If you reach an emergency room within that time, doctors may consider reattaching the traumatically amputated limb. If you cannot, doctors will not reattach the limb because the tissue will have already died.
What Are Some Amputation Injury Complications?
Whether you suffer a surgical or traumatic amputation, you face months or even years of complications from your injury. Some common complications include:
Infections happen when microorganisms enter your body through an open wound. If the amputation site was contaminated in the accident, you run a high risk of infection. You can also contract an infection during your post-accident stay in the hospital.
Doctors will keep the stump as clean as possible and prescribe antibiotics. But hospitals are breeding grounds for infection, with as many as 10% of patients getting an infection while hospitalized.
Pulmonary embolisms happen when a blood clot travels from your wound to your lungs. The clot blocks blood vessels in your lungs, interfering with your body’s ability to absorb oxygen into the blood. A pulmonary embolism can lead to death or permanent lung damage without emergency treatment.
Phantom Limb Syndrome
As many as 80% of people with an amputation injury will suffer from phantom pain or phantom limb syndrome. Phantom pain is not a psychological phenomenon. The pain is real, but the brain misinterprets its origin.
When your stump experiences pain, your brain uses an outdated map of your nervous system and places the source of the pain in your missing limb. Over time, your brain will remap the nerves in your stump and correctly interpret the location of the painful sensation.
Emotional and Mental Trauma
A severe accident can cause anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders come from the brain recalibrating its fight, flight, or freeze reaction to account for the traumatic accident.
The brain becomes hypersensitized to triggers to try to protect you from a repeat accident. But it becomes so sensitized that normal, harmless triggers can cause you to react.
Losing a limb can lead to anxiety and PTSD as your brain tries to keep you safe. Limb loss can also trigger depression as you grieve the loss of your limb.
How Do You Get Compensation for an Amputation Injury?
An amputation injury can justify substantial compensation. Personal injury compensation covers your losses due to medical expenses, lost income, and other damages. With an amputation injury, these losses could be substantial. You will need ongoing care and may even need to change jobs. You can also recover non-economic losses for disfigurement, pain, suffering, and inability to participate in activities.