Amputations range from the loss of a fingertip to the loss of an entire limb. After dismemberment due to an amputation injury, you will suffer significant disfigurement and lifelong disabilities that could affect your ability to work and care for yourself.
Unfortunately, amputations happen more often than you might think. As of 2005, about 1.6 million Americans had lost a limb during their lifetime. Every year, about 159,000 patients lose their toes, feet, or legs, making lower limb amputations the most common type of amputation injury.
What Is the Anatomy of Your Extremities?
Your musculoskeletal system includes bones and soft tissues. Your skeleton provides structure to your body because your bones create a rigid scaffold to support the soft tissues. At the same time, soft tissues connect and move the bones.
Soft tissues include ligaments, tendons, and muscles. These tissues cooperate with the skeleton to stabilize your skeleton. Ligaments hold your skeleton together at the joints and guide your motion, preventing your joints from bending in the wrong direction.
Muscles give your body strength and attach to the bones through tendons. This allows muscles to pull on bones to move your body.
Bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments contain living cells. These cells need oxygen for cell metabolism, and without oxygen, the cells die. To this end, red blood cells carry oxygen to the musculoskeletal system.
What Are the Two Types of Amputation Injuries?
Amputations can happen in two primary ways:
In a traumatic amputation, your limb is severed in an incident, like when a factory machine cuts off your finger in an industrial accident.
Sometimes, doctors can reattach a severed limb. They determine the viability of replantation based on:
- How long the body part was severed
- The condition of the bone and soft tissues
- Whether the amputation site was contaminated
To replant an amputated limb, doctors need to reconnect the blood vessels to restore blood flow to the amputated limb.
When your body suffers severe damage, a doctor may perform a surgical amputation to remove the damaged tissue to save your life. Without an amputation, the damaged tissue could die and develop gangrene, eventually killing you.
The most common type of tissue damage that might trigger an amputation is vascular damage. When your blood vessels get crushed or severed, your limb will not receive any oxygenated blood. If doctors cannot restore circulation, the limb dies from a lack of oxygen.
In a typical surgical amputation, doctors will:
- Assess which tissues are damaged and which are healthy
- Remove the damaged tissues and seal any blood vessels
- Form a viable stump that may accept a prosthesis
After surgery, the doctor may leave the amputation site open to monitor for infection. An open site also allows the doctor to remove more tissue if necessary. Doctors can also close the site to reduce the risk of infection.
What Causes Amputations?
In the U.S., about 68% of amputations result from diseases like diabetes. Only 32% of amputations happen because of traumatic injuries. These injuries can happen in almost any type of accident, including:
A common cause of lower limb amputations is car accidents. A head-on collision can push your car’s engine into the passenger compartment, crushing your legs and feet. The force could amputate your legs or damage them so severely that you may need a surgical amputation.
Workplace accidents can lead to amputation injuries. For example, objects can fall onto you, crushing a foot, leg, hand, or arm. Sharp tools could lacerate you so severely that you lose a finger or toe. A factory machine could catch your arm and pull you into the operating machinery.
One of the leading causes of upper limb amputations is workplace accidents. These accidents can happen when safety equipment malfunctions and allows a machine to catch your hand or arm while you use it.
Burns can damage your tissues so severely that doctors need to amputate a part of your body. This usually only happens in severe burns that reach deep into the soft tissues and destroy the blood vessels.
What Complications Can Result from an Amputation Injury?
Amputation injuries can develop many complications, including:
Infections happen when pathogens enter your body. Once inside, the bacteria or viruses multiply. Their large numbers overwhelm your body cells by depriving them of space and nutrients.
In response to a pathogenic invasion, your body triggers an inflammatory response. This response includes swelling to trap the pathogens and fever to kill them. While this response can effectively deal with the infection, a runaway response can trigger septic shock and death.
Phantom pain happens when you experience sensations (most often pain) that appear to originate in the amputated body part. Roughly 80% of amputees experience phantom pain, making it the most common complication after an amputation injury.
Doctors theorize that phantom pain comes from the nerve endings that used to terminate in the lost limb but now end in the stump. The outdated map in the brain mistakenly sends and receives signals to these nerve endings, leading to sharp, clenching pain sensations.
Depression is a common side effect of amputation. Patients can experience a range of strong negative emotions after amputation, including:
- Grief for the lost limb
- Fear of their future job prospects
- Anxiety about their disfiguring injury
An estimated 30% of amputees experience some amount of depression after their injury.
What Compensation Can You Seek for an Amputation Injury?
You could face expensive medical treatment and aftercare for an amputation injury. You will also probably need several months away from work to recover, and you may never return to your old job due to the loss of your limb. Thankfully, you can sometimes pursue economic damages for the financial impact of your amputation injury.
You may also suffer from significant pain and mental anguish after an amputation. You can sometimes pursue non-economic damages for all the ways your amputation injury diminished your quality of life.