Amputation—General Overview



An amputation is a surgery to remove a body part. It is removed because of disease or damage.

Above the Knee Amputation

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Reasons for Procedure

Reasons for Procedure

An amputation is typically done for one of the following reasons:

  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) causing:

    • Gangrene
    • Untreatable pain
    • Severe soft tissue infection
  • Severe trauma that cannot be repaired
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Untreatable bone infection such as osteomyelitis
  • Malignant tumor
  • Congenital deformity (present at birth)
  • Severe frostbite
  • Complications of connective tissue diseases, such as:

Possible Complications

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have an amputation, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Poor healing at amputation site, resulting in the need for a higher level of amputation
  • Skin breakdown
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling at surgical site
  • Phantom limb pain —feeling pain in amputated limb area
  • Phantom sensation—feeling that amputated limb is still there
  • Blood clots
  • Complications of anesthesia

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:

What to Expect

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your amputation may be planned. In this case, your doctor will review with you how it is done and what to expect. An emergency amputation may need to be done. This can happen because of trauma or life-threatening infection. In this case, you may not have this preparation.

Depending on the injury and location, your doctor may do some of the following before your surgery:

  • Imaging studies to look at the bones and surrounding tissue for evidence and location of disease or trauma, including:

  • Tissue cultures
  • Blood tests
  • Heart evaluation
  • Preoperative antibiotics
  • Tests to evaluate blood flow in the part of the body that is being amputated

Leading up to your surgery:

  • Arrange for a ride home from the hospital.
  • Arrange for help at home after your surgery.
  • Follow instructions for eating before surgery—usually nothing after midnight.
  • You may be asked to use an antibacterial soap the morning of your surgery.


The anesthesia used will depend on the body part operated on. You may receive:

Description of Procedure

An incision will be made into the skin of the affected limb or limb part. If needed, the muscles will also be cut. Blood vessels will be tied off or sealed to prevent bleeding. The bone will then be cut through. The diseased or damaged body part will be removed.

Muscle will be pulled over the bone. It will be sutured in place there. The remaining skin will be pulled over the muscle. The skin will be sewn to form a stump. A sterile dressing will be placed over the incision.

If severe infection is involved, the incision may be left open to heal.

How Long Will It Take?

This procedure can take 20 minutes to several hours. The length will depend on the type of amputation being done and your overall health.

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.

Average Hospital Stay

Your hospital stay will depend on the type of amputation you had. Typically:

  • Foot or toe amputation: 2-7 days
  • Leg amputation: 2 days to 2 weeks or more
  • Upper extremity: 7-12 days
  • Finger amputation: 0-1 day

Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

After surgery, you can expect some of the following:

  • The area involved will be elevated. This will decrease swelling.
  • Your limb will be dressed in bulky dressing, elastic bandage, or cast.
  • You will be encouraged to get up and walk as soon as possible.
  • Physical therapy will begin within a day or 2 of surgery. It will focus on improving strength and mobility.
  • You may wear a cast or special shoe for toe/foot amputations.
  • You may be given certain medications. This may include antibiotics or blood thinners.
  • You will be fitted with a prosthesis as soon as your wound has healed.

Preventing Infection

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch your incision

At Home

Stitches will be removed within a few weeks of surgery. When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Counseling may be recommended for the emotional trauma of an amputation.
  • Attend follow up appointments with your doctor. They will make sure you are healing well.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight for overall health and to make sure your prosthesis fits well.

Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision sites
  • Increasing or excessive pain
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Severe nausea and vomiting

If you think you have emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Amputee Coalition of America


The Canadian Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Association

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


Bone sarcoma in the upper extremity: treatment options using limb salvage or amputation. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
Updated October 2007. Accessed December 5, 2014.

Fingertip injuries/amputations. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
Updated August 2011. Accessed December 5, 2014.

Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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