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Information about the impacts of amputation on your appearance, plus guidance about what support is available from Changing Faces and other organisations.

On this page, we talk about what amputation is, some of the different reasons for amputation and the support you will receive afterwards, as well as the psychological (mental and emotional) challenges you may experience because of the change to your appearance.

We explain how our services can help manage the challenges of acquiring a visible difference (a scar, mark or condition anywhere on your face or body that affects your appearance) as well as how other organisations may be able to support you.

What is amputation?

Amputation is the surgical removal of a body part such as a hand, foot or limb (an arm or leg). Reasons for needing an amputation can vary. You may need an emergency amputation if you experience a serious injury after an accident or in military combat for example. Or your amputation may be planned due to a disease such as cancer or diabetes.

Either way, losing a body part may cause you significant practical and psychological challenges as you adjust to the changes to your body and find new ways of doing things. In some cases, you may need to rely on others for help with things you previously did independently. How much your appearance is affected will depend on what has been amputated. You may struggle with the change to your own self-image and how you feel others see you.

Reasons for amputation

Amputation is sometimes needed when body parts are severely damaged. This could be due to:

  • Physical trauma: A serious injury such as a road traffic accident or an injury at work. Sometimes a body part may be cut or torn off in the incident itself, while in other cases the extent of the injury may make amputation necessary.
  • Reduced blood flow: Conditions which cause blood flow to be cut off – such as gangrene or frostbite – may lead to tissue death. Sometimes amputation is necessary because the body part cannot be saved. Amputation is sometimes the only way to prevent tissue death from spreading.
  • Diabetes and vascular disease: These conditions can also lead to reduced blood flow, particularly in toes, feet and legs.
  • Cancer: In a very small number of cases, amputation may be the only way to stop certain cancers from spreading. Amputation is most common in sarcoma, a group of cancers which affect bone and soft tissue.
  • Severe infection: Amputation may be needed in cases of severe infections such as:
    • Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning or septicaemia. This is when your body reacts to an infection and your immune system damages your tissues and organs.
    • Meningococcal bacteria, which causes a severe form of meningitis.
    • MRSA, a type of bacteria that can cause a form of aggressive tissue death called necrotising fasciitis.

For more information, have a look at the NHS page on amputations or the Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Please bear in mind that the statistics on the Johns Hopkins resource are applicable to the United States and not necessarily representative of the UK.

Support for veterans

If you have experienced an amputation because of combat, we can help. We have a dedicated area especially for veterans with information about the services and support we can offer you.

See our veterans information

Types of amputation

In surgery, the surgeon will either cut directly through the bone or they may separate bones where they meet at the joint. There are three main types of amputation:

  • Standard amputation: The body part is removed and the surgeon attaches muscles to the cut end before covering it with skin.
  • Osseointegration (OI): The body part is removed and a steel implant is inserted into the leftover bone before the wound is closed.
  • Rotationplasty: Often used in cases of cancer, this is where the cancerous part is cut away and healthy tissue is rotated and reattached. This means healthy tissue is not removed unnecessarily and can be used to help the functioning of the part of the body affected.

What happens before surgery?

Before your surgery takes place, your medical team will carry out assessments to decide on the most suitable type of amputation for you.

Depending on whether the surgery is planned or an emergency, this may involve:

  • A medical exam to check your physical condition.
  • Checks of your healthy limb.
  • An assessment to establish what psychological support you will need after surgery.
  • An appraisal of your home, workplace and social environment to see what adaptations will be needed.
  • A consultation with a physiotherapist and potentially also a prosthetist (someone who deals with artificial limbs, which are also known as “prostheses”).

If your surgery is planned, you may also have the chance to meet someone who has had a similar type of amputation.

What happens after surgery?

After surgery, you will be supported through rehabilitation and the transition to life at home.


Rehabilitation is the process of recovering and adjusting from your amputation surgery. It may include:

  • Simple exercises while lying down or seated.
  • If you have had a lower limb amputation, you’ll learn “transfer techniques” for getting in and out of a wheelchair and learn how to move around in a chair.
  • As you recover, you’ll begin more intensive exercises with a physiotherapist to build up and maintain your strength.

Stump care

Soon after your operation, you will learn how to take care of your stump, which is the part of your limb that remains after amputation. This typically involves:

  • Daily washing to avoid irritation or infection.
  • Checking for signs of infection.
  • Cleaning the socket of your prosthetic limb if you have one.

You will also learn how to look after your remaining limb, which will have to compensate for the loss of your amputated limb.

Prosthetic or artificial limbs

Some people have a prosthetic limb after their amputation. A prosthetic performs some of the functions of your original limb – for example, you may walk on a prosthetic leg. A prosthetic limb (or prosthesis) is not a suitable option for everyone. They can take a lot of energy to use due to the loss of muscle following an amputation. In some cases, you may be offered a “cosmetic limb”, which looks real, but does not perform a physical function.

If you have a prosthetic limb, you will spend some time desensitising the skin (making it less sensitive) so the prosthesis is more comfortable for you. This might involve wearing compression bandages to reduce swelling and gently rubbing, tapping or pulling the skin around your stump.

Returning home

How long you stay in hospital will depend on the type of amputation you have had and how quickly you recover. An occupational therapist will visit your home and assess what adaptations you will need. For example, if you will need to use a wheelchair user, you may need a ramp installed so you get in and out of your home. Doorways may need to be widened and you may need a stairlift.

Amputation and my appearance

How much your amputation affects the way you look can vary, but it can take time to adjust. You might experience a range of emotions from relief to anxiety, anger and denial. Psychologists think the three main causes of psychological issues (those that affect your mental health and wellbeing) after your amputation are coping with:

  • Changes to the way you look.
  • The loss of sensation in your amputated limb.
  • The loss of function caused by losing a limb.

Acquiring a visible difference can affect your confidence and self-esteem. You may become aware of other people looking at you and some may even make comments or ask questions about your appearance. This can be challenging, particularly if you are struggling with the other practical and emotional challenges of your amputation.

What support can we offer you?

Here at Changing Faces, we can help. Through our counselling and wellbeing support service, we provide confidential, one-to-one social, emotional and psychological support which is available to adults, young people and children living with a visible difference. Our wellbeing practitioners are specially trained to work with you over a series of sessions, giving you a space to talk about what’s on your mind.

If it’s your child who has had an amputation, we offer online workshops for children, young people and their parents. These workshops provide an opportunity for your family to talk to others affected by visible differences and learn tools and techniques for managing the challenges you and your child may experience.

Our self-help guides cover a wide range of topics and are available freely on our website. They cover all aspects of life – from school and work to mental health, confidence and relationships. As well as resources for adults with visible differences, we have guides specifically designed for parents as well as a series for children and young people.

We also have a dedicated page for veterans who have acquired a visible difference, including amputations, as a result of combat.

There are several other ways we can support people with amputations here at Changing Faces:

  • Online Community: An online forum moderated by Changing Faces staff, where you can talk to others with visible differences.y
  • Peer Group Chat Service: An eight-week programme of group support facilitated by Changing Faces staff, that takes place either on Zoom or a chatroom.
  • Real stories: Read stories by other people living with limb differences, including amputation.

Please contact our Support and Information Line if you’re interested in accessing our services. As well as connecting you to our services, our team can offer support calls for you to talk about the impacts of a visible difference on your life.

Other organisations

Guidance, support and advice is also available from other organisations. Please follow the links to their websites to learn more.

Limbless Association

The Limbless Association provides information, advice, and support for people of all ages who have lost one or more limbs, as well as offering support to family and carers. They also help amputees connect online and in person and provide legal advice.

Organisations for veterans

Have a look at our page for veterans, where we list a number of other organisations which provide support specifically for veterans and/or military families. We also outline the services and support we offer for veterans with visible differences.


Please have a look at the NHS conditions page for official guidance on amputation, information on when to see a GP, and advice about support available on the NHS. You will also find out what support is available on the NHS and how to seek help.