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What to Expect Before and After Amputation Surgery

Pain Before and After Surgery

Before surgery, you may experience a lot of pain from pre-existing conditions such as trauma, vascular disease, or a tumor. Don’t try to fight through the pain. Controlling your pain before the amputation surgery can help decrease your pain after the amputation.

Pain during surgery is controlled with a variety of methods. General anesthesia puts you to sleep so you’re unaware of the surgery. Injection of medicines either at the site of your nerves or in your spinal canal prevent pain nerves from transmitting pain messages to your brain. Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will work with you to determine which methods are best for you.

Pain in your amputated limb can have several causes. The effect of amputation surgery on your skin, soft tissue, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, and bones provides unique causes of pain. Your doctors will prescribe and adjust medications to ensure your pain is well controlled.

Following surgery, pain control is best managed by a health care team with expertise in amputation pain; your team of experts can diagnose causes and provide pain relief solutions. Expertise with amputation pain management is necessary for your comfort and to prevent addiction to medications.

Each person experiences pain differently; what works for one person may not help another.


Phantom Limb Sensation

Phantom limb sensation means you still have the sensation of being able to feel your amputated limb. Most amputees experience this very real sensation, although the intensity varies person to person. It is important to get tips from your rehab team for dealing with phantom limb sensation.

Phantom limb sensation can cause injuries. Amputees may attempt to step down on a now missing limb because it feels as if it’s still there. This often happens during the night when an amputee is groggy and gets out of bed to use the bathroom.

You might also experience pain in the removed part of the limb. This phantom limb pain can occur with anyone, but is usually fairly mild and self limiting. In a few people phantom limb pain can be a lingering problem and requires a physician with expertise in treating this phenomenon.

In an effort to improve understanding of the origin and treatments of phantom limb pain, research in the medical community is ongoing. Common treatments include: medication, compression, touch or massage therapy, and electrical stimulation.


Healing After an Amputation

Most amputations are closed with stitches and/or staples, and take 1-3 months, on average, to heal. Many factors affect your healing rate, and you may need up to a year for adequate healing so you can be ready to use a prosthesis.

Sometimes, after a minor amputation, the wound isn’t closed completely with stitches. If infection is present, or too much skin had to be removed, then your surgeon may leave your amputation wound open until swelling is controlled. This kind of procedure is performed frequently for foot infections in diabetic patients.

Once your amputation stump, more frequently called a residual limb, is created, it’s a potentially vulnerable area that requires lifelong care and attention.

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