Amputation Fact Sheet

It is estimated that there are 350,000 amputees living in the United States, with approximately 135,000 new amputations occurring each year. The number of amputees worldwide is not currently tracked by any organization. Here in the United states the most common causes of amputation of the lower extremity are disease (70%), trauma (22%) congenital or birth defects (4%) and tumors (4%). Upper extremity amputation is usually due to trauma or birth defect with disease not as great of a contributing factor. The causes of amputation vary greatly from country to country. In countries with a recent history of warfare and civil unrest, the amputation due to trauma and landmine accidents is much greater.

Amputation of a limb can affect almost all aspects of an individual's life, and  to fully recover from limb loss all of these areas need to be addressed. Issues of simple mobility and self-care are the initial problems that most amputees face. Participation in a comprehensive rehabilitation program will help the amputee recover their function. Be sure to find a program that specializes in amputation rehabilitation and has good experience in treating amputation. A team approach with physicians, therapists, nurses, social workers and psychologists will provide the most well rounded program.

Most amputees experience problems with body image and difficulty coping with lifestyle changes in one way or another. People with amputations frequently go through a grieving period similar to dealing with the death of a close relation. These feelings are normal but if they persist they can effect recovery. Talking to a trained psychologist or psychiatrist with experience treating people with disabilities can be very helpful.

As individuals begin to return to their previous lifestyle, questions about sexuality can arise. Again many of these uncertainties are normal and should be discussed with your psychologist or rehabilitation specialist.

Finally, return to both recreational activities and employment are all a part of recovering from an amputation. Many times simple modifications to recreation equipment can allow a person to return to a previously enjoyed sport or hobby. Many prosthetic manufacturers produce components specifically designed for sports. Be sure to discuss all of your leisure interests with your prosthetist and your physician to allow proper selection of a prosthetic that will meet your needs.

As far as return to work, employers vary in their willingness to modify a work environment to accommodate people with disabilities. Your therapists should be able to perform a job site evaluation and make recommendations to help with your work area. However, some people will not be able to return to their previous jobs.

Your state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation should be able to assist you in job retraining. Please contact your local office. Their telephone number can be found in the Guide to Human Services section of your local White and Yellow Pages. The number may be listed under the Health - Disability section.

Once you are past the initial rehabilitation stage you will have ongoing contact with both the physician directing your care and a prosthetist. It is very important that you are comfortable with both of these people and feel confident with the care that they are providing you. Be proactive in choosing both your rehabilitation professionals and your prosthetic company. They should work with you in making decisions about prosthetic devices.

Remember that amputation does not have to end your life. There are people with limb loss in every walk of life. They have a wide variety of professions from congressmen to electricians. They participate in sports from mountain climbing to golf. There are many clubs and organizations that provide information so ask your rehabilitation specialist about support groups and sports organizations in your area.

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