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Healing After Amputation

 Comprehensive Prosthetics & Orthotics April 06, 2014
By Molly Hill, CO, Resident Prosthetist

Amputation affects many people whether it is due to vascular disease, diabetes, infection, cancer, or a traumatic injury. The Amputee Coalition reports that 185,000 new amputations are performed each year in the United States. When facing the reality of amputation, the life changes ahead can be overwhelming. The recovery process includes not only physical healing, but also emotional healing. Whether one has undergone amputation of one toe or the entire leg, the grieving process is similar.

The loss of a limb can affect one as greatly as the loss of a loved one and the grieving process is comparable. Dr. Kubler-Ross defined five stages of grief used to describe and explain the emotional healing process. This process is unique to each individual. Each person experiences the stages for varying periods of time, or in varying order. One may not experience all five stages or may experience certain stages more than once while coming to terms with the amputation. The five stages include: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are defined as follows:

  • Denial and isolation: This stage involves disbelief that the amputation has occurred and withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Anger: This stage involves anger with what has happened and blaming others or a higher power for causing the amputation. Rage and increased energy are often associated with
  • this stage.
  • Bargaining: This stage involves one bargaining with doctors, therapists, or a higher power. This stage may occur internally and be related to feelings of guilt related to the amputation.
  • Depression: This stage involves sadness and worry or anxiety about the future. Symptoms include pessimism, loneliness, restlessness, decreased energy, fatigue, loss of appetite, and loss of interest in activities.
  • Acceptance: This stage involves realization of the reality of the situation and the ability to move forward without reverting to one of the four previous stages.
Many factors can influence the length and intensity of the grieving process. These factors can include: age, ability to cope, other health complications, preparation time prior to surgery, cause of amputation, and family/peer support.

The ability to overcome the psychological effects of limb loss generally increases with age. Children tend to adapt to life with an amputation more readily than adults. Other health complications that slow the physical healing process or affect function of other limbs can affect the emotional healing process as the recovery process may seem more daunting or the predicted return of function is less than prior to the amputation. One’s overall outlook on life or personality may also affect the individual’s emotional healing. Those with a positive outlook on life or those who have survived other major life changes may be quicker to reach acceptance of the amputation.

The urgency of amputation often leaves little time for preparation. The amount of preparation time can depend on the reason for the amputation, whether it is due to a quickly spreading infection or has been a long debated option after prolonged healing of a traumatic injury. If one has time prior to surgery, meeting with a prosthetist or a peer who has undergone a similar procedure can be helpful. These meetings are beneficial in that they can provide insight into the recovery process and help set realistic expectations and provide hope for recovery and life with a prosthesis.

Following amputation, a strong support system of family and friends and a team approach to recovery are both important. The team can include the patient, family, physician, prosthetist, and physical therapist. Collaboration in care allows for a smoother rehabilitation. Starting rehab early after amputation and regaining independence can help in reaching acceptance.

If you or a family member are facing amputation and have questions, a prosthetist can provide information about resources or support groups in the area. He or she can also help to set up a meeting with another patient who understands what you are going through.

Molly Hill is a certified Orthotist and Prosthetic Resident at Comprehensive Prosthetics & Orthotics, Inc. (CPO). CPO provides patients in Central Illinois with prosthetic and orthotic devices and care, and also houses an on-site fabrication department where custom orthoses and prostheses are designed and created for each patient. CPO can be reached by calling toll free 888-676-2276. Visit the website at

Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

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 Comprehensive Prosthetics & Orthotics| April 06, 2014
Categories:  Emotional

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