How Amputation Works

Preparing for Amputation Surgery

A prosthetist uses body measurements to construct a prosthetic limb that will fit the patient properly.
A prosthetist uses body measurements to construct a prosthetic limb that will fit the patient properly.

In modern times, a great deal of foresight and planning go into preparing for an amputation surgery. The patient first meets with the surgeon and other relevant medical caregivers. Together they discuss important issues relating to the surgery, and the patient is educated about the procedure and what to expect afterwards. Decisions regarding the surgery, such as the type of anesthesia to be used and the level of amputation, are all topics that are typically covered.

Arrangements to begin construction of a prosthetic device are often made before the surgery as well. A specialist called a prosthetist meets with the patient and takes body measurements so the process of constructing an appropriate prosthetic limb can begin. Often, the patient will also have meetings with a psychological counselor. Understandably, losing a limb can be a particularly traumatic concept for many patients.

The surgeon must carefully plan the surgical details of the procedure, keeping several key objectives in mind. For example, it's critical to remove all diseased or injured tissue that's unlikely to heal. Leaving damaged tissue behind would defeat the purpose of the amputation and would further impair the healing process. This goal must be ba­lanced, however, with the additional aim of sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. The surgeon will always try to preserve any healthy joints the patient may have, since a working joint can greatly improve the functionality of a

prosthetic device.

When making the decision about precisely where to amputate, the surgeon needs to be able to evaluate which body tissues have the best chance to survive. One way to make this call is to measure the blood supply to the area. For this purpose, a variety of sophisticated techniques can be used that measure factors such as blood flow, blood pressure and skin temperature.

The exception to this -- a situation where there's no time for planning -- is in the event of a traumatic injury. In an emergency situation, there are times when amputation is the only option.

Once an amputation surgery has been planned, how is it actually performed? Read about modern day amputation techniques on the next page.