An amputation injury is one of the most catastrophic injuries one can suffer. The loss of a body part, be it a finger, an ear, or an entire leg, robs you of its function and permanently disables you, even if you eventually get fitted with a prosthetic device.
Of equal importance is that an amputation can cause lasting emotional distress. The loss of your limb is a traumatizing event that leaves you disfigured. As a result, you may suffer from disabilities related to your mental and emotional state as well as your physical injury.
What Is the Function of Your Musculoskeletal System?
Most of your body parts are made up of both bones and soft tissues.
The bones typically act as a rigid scaffolding for the body part, providing structure and strength, and they attach with ligaments, which hold the bones together at the joints and guide each one’s motion. Your elbow ligaments, for instance, hold the upper and lower arm together and prevent them from bending backward.
Muscles move the body by contracting and relaxing. The forces generated by muscles are transferred to your bones through tendons, tough tissues that attach your muscles to your skeleton.
Cartilage is a tough and smooth collagen material that lines your joints, allowing the bones to move against each other at the joints without grinding. Cartilage also forms some of your facial structures, like your ears and nose, which consist only of soft tissue.
Types of Amputation Injuries
Amputation injuries happen in two ways:
Traumatic amputations happen when the accident you were involved in dislodges a particular part of your body. For an extreme example, if you were in a pedestrian accident that knocked you over and caused your ear to be torn off when you hit the pavement, you’ll have suffered a traumatic amputation.
A more common but no less traumatic amputation happens in workplaces, like factories, where a worker’s hand gets caught in a machine with blades or conveyors that can slice or rip fingers, thumbs, hands, or arms from the body.
In some cases, doctors can reattach or replant a severed body part.
Some factors that determine whether a doctor can attempt replantation include the following:
- The damage to the stump and the amputated part itself
- The viability of the blood vessels and nerves
- Contamination of the stump or body part with chemicals, dirt, or microorganisms
Replantation is a surgical process that works to reattach the physical, neurological, and circulatory connections between the body and the severed part. In some situations, you might require several replantation surgeries.
Surgical amputations happen when your body suffers so much trauma that a doctor needs to remove the body part to otherwise save your life. If your toe is crushed in a construction accident, doctors may recommend amputation so the tissue in your foot does not die while the toe is still attached.
To perform a surgical amputation, the doctor will examine the area to determine where they can preserve as much of the healthy tissue as possible while removing any damaged tissue.
During the surgery, your doctor will seal all the nerves and blood vessels as they cut the tissue away. They will cut through the bone, shape it to avoid sharp edges, and then fashion the remaining muscle into a stump that can interface with a prosthetic device.
Doctors can choose whether to close the resulting wound or leave it open. Closing the wound reduces the risk of infection, but leaving it open helps the doctor monitor how the wound heals and remove additional tissue if necessary.
What Can Lead to an Amputation Injury?
In developed countries like the U.S., most amputations result from diseases. Diabetes, vascular diseases, cancers, and other diseases cause about 68% of all amputations.
The remaining 32% result directly from trauma, which can lead to amputations in several ways. As previously mentioned, the accident itself can sever the body part from the body. However, when trauma does not amputate the body part, it can still damage it enough that doctors recommend amputation surgery.
A crushed bone might necessitate amputation, for instance. In most cases, doctors can reconstruct a bone broken into three or more pieces using screws and plates. Nevertheless, when part of the bone is missing or destroyed, doctors may be forced to consider alternatives like bone grafts or amputation.
Nerve damage can also lead to an amputation. Nerves carry motor signals to the body and sensory signals to your brain, so after extensive nerve damage, doctors may recommend removing a body part entirely rather than leaving it attached but paralyzed.
The most common injury that leads to amputation is vascular damage. When blood vessels are damaged, the cells below the injury site cannot receive oxygenated blood and begin to die. If doctors cannot restore circulation, the dead tissue will begin to decompose, causing gangrene. Instead of leaving the tissue to die, doctors may recommend amputating it.
What Complications Can Result from Amputations?
Amputation injuries commonly develop complications such as:
Roughly 80% of amputees experience phantom limb syndrome, a neurological concern that occurs when the brain’s map of the body struggles to update on account of a missing limb. Phantom limb symptoms can manifest as pain that appears to emanate from the missing part or sensations like tickling, itching, or clenching in the missing part.
Experiencing phantom limb sensations is not a psychosomatic affair. The brain perceives real sensations from the stump and other body parts as it remaps the nerves that led to the missing body part.
About 30% of amputees suffer from some form of emotional distress after amputation, such as:
- (Social) Anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
These emotional and mental conditions result from the trauma of losing a body part, grief for its loss, and the social stigma of the resulting disfigurement.
How Can You Get Compensation for an Amputation Injury?
If your amputation was caused at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, which pay all your medical bills and part of your lost income. Depending on the body part, you may even receive permanent disability compensation.
You could pursue compensation for non-work injuries if someone else’s intentional or negligent actions led to your amputation. In these cases, you can recover compensation for both economic and non-economic losses, including medical costs, lost income, and pain and suffering.