Different Types of Limb Loss: Before & After Surgery

Before a patient can get fit with their multi-articulating myoelectric hand, it’s vital that their prosthetist conducts a thorough evaluation and understands the cause of amputation or limb loss. This information helps prosthetists understand what a patient’s needs are so they can determine which prosthetic hand is the best fit for them. 

With this in mind, we’ll discuss the two primary types of upper limb loss seen in prosthesis users, as well as what patients should expect before and after amputation surgery. 

Limb loss can be a devastating adjustment for patients, especially depending on how the limb was lost. Limb loss most often occurs in one of two ways, either congenital limb loss or amputation. Both types of limb loss come with their own implications, making every patient’s needs unique. 



Congenital limb loss is present at birth and occurs when a patient is born without a limb, limbs, or a part of their limb. The cause of congenital limb loss is not entirely understood, but it has been found to relate to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While it may seem rare, this form of limb loss occurs in millions of patients worldwide. In fact, there are currently over 2 million Americans living with congenital limb loss, nearly 60% of which involve the arm or hand. 

Coping with congenital limb loss can be challenging for individuals, but with proper knowledge, education, and training, most patients learn to embrace their differences from a young age. The most common treatment for this condition is to have the individual be fit for a prosthesis, typically at a young age. 

Doing so at such a young age can lead to the normal development of muscles in the residual limb, ensuring that the muscles don’t atrophy. Another advantage is that users quickly become proficient in operating their prosthetic hand, allowing them to perform day-to-day functions with ease. 



The second type of limb loss we will discuss is amputation. Like congenital limb loss, amputation is much more common than many believe, with nearly 185,000 amputations occurring in the U.S. each year. How amputation differs from congenital limb loss is that individuals are born with their limb intact but either lose the limb or require it to be amputated for medical reasons. 

There are three primary causes of amputation: vascular disease, trauma, and cancer. Vascular diseases account for 54% of amputations, including diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, or blood clots. Should any of these diseases significantly limit the blood flow to a patient’s limbs, it could lead to a necessary amputation. 

Another common cause of limb loss is trauma, which affects 45% of upper extremity amputees. Trauma incited amputations most often occur from car accidents, workplace incidents, sporting injuries, or military action. 

The final cause of amputation is cancer, which affects less than 2% of amputees. If a patient has a tumor that is not responding to treatment or risks spreading to the rest of the body, the limb may need to be amputated to preserve the patient’s life. 

These causes of amputation are divided into two categories: elective or emergency amputation. Given the need for amputation and the state of the patient, the before and after of each amputation will differ slightly. 


Elective Amputation

Elective amputations occur when a medical professional recommends the amputation of a limb. This most often occurs in cases of cancer where the patient does not necessarily have to amputate, but doing so will increase their chances of surviving or preventing cancer. 

If an elective amputation is deemed appropriate, the doctor will remove the limb while attempting to keep as much healthy skin, blood vessels, and nerve tissue as possible. Before surgery, doctors will communicate to the patient how much of their limb will remain and what to expect after surgery. 

Following surgery, patients will stay in the hospital as their residual limb heals, often taking four to eight weeks. Once the residual limb is healed, patients will begin physical rehab. Rehab of the limb is meant to strengthen the patient’s residual muscles and start preparing the patient for a prosthetic hand. 

For patients seeking a bionic hand, strengthening their residual muscles is crucial, as these are what send signals to the device to control it. A prosthetist will work directly with the patient to fit them for their bionic hand and teach them how to configure and operate the hand. After a learning period and occupational therapy, patients will be able to seamlessly operate their new bionic hand and return to their everyday life.


Emergency Amputation

Emergency amputations most often occur in situations of trauma, as described above. In this case, the amputation is not planned, therefore eliminating most of the before aspect of surgery. Instead, doctors will immediately begin with emergency protocols to preserve as much of the patient’s limb as possible. 

However, the decision to amputate in emergencies can still be quite complex if some of the patient’s limb is intact. Doctors must determine if the limb can be saved or if doing so will compromise a patient’s life, as well as take into account the severity of nerve damage. If amputation is deemed appropriate, doctors will move forward with the surgery. 

While no amputation is an easy adjustment, emergency amputations can be more challenging for patients to recover from emotionally and mentally. That being said, doctors will try to perform the surgery to leave enough residual limb for the patient to be fit for a prosthesis. If the patient is suited for a prosthetic hand, they will begin fitting and training after the recovery and rehabilitation process. 


Addressing Limb Loss with Prostheses

Limb loss is a significant adjustment for patients, both mentally and physically. With the loss of a limb, regardless of the cause, patients must learn how to perform day-to-day functions and tasks differently. For these reasons, doctors perform amputations with the patient’s quality of life in mind and try to give them the option of a prosthesis. 

For most patients with upper limb loss, bionic hands are an excellent option. Bionic hands can help patients regain much of the autonomy, independence, and strength that may have been lost with their hand. 

Bionic hands can operate intuitively by receiving signals from a patient’s residual muscles, giving users seamless control over their hand. Once familiar with the device, patients can soon get back to doing what they love. 

Regaining this independence can significantly help patients recover from their limb loss, particularly in terms of mental health and attitude. With our bionic hand, the Zeus, users will regain confidence through their strength and dexterity, allowing them to overcome limb loss and thrive. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Zeus, visit our website and book a demo today.

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