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.
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.
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.
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.