Amputation definitions


The language associated with amputations can be complicated and difficult to understand. We have identified some of the key terms in use every day in relation to amputation, more information can also be found on our amputation FAQ's page.



An amputation is the loss of a limb due to injury or disease.

Lower limb amputation is either transtibial (below knee) or transfemeral (above knee). The limb is either lost due to peripheral vascular disease, other severe diseases or major traumatic injury to the lower limb.

Other types of lower limb amputation are:

  • Double lower amputation , where both legs are amputated, usually below the knee
  • Knee disarticulation , where the amputation is performed through the middle of the knee joint
  • Partial foot amputation , where the toes and lower half of the foot are amputated
  • Hip disarticulation , where the amputation takes place through the hip joint, removing the whole leg
  • Lower digit amputation , where one or more of the toes are amputated
  • Hemipelvectomy , where an entire leg and a section of the pelvis are amputated

Most upper limb amputations are needed because the hand and forearm have been damaged by a traumatic injury.

The main types of upper limb amputation are:

  • Upper digit amputation , where the thumb or one or more of the fingers are amputated
  • Transhumeral , where the hand and a section of the arm are amputated above the elbow
  • Transradial , where the hand and part of the arm are amputated below the elbow
  • Partial hand amputation , where part of the and is amputated
  • Shoulder disarticulation , where the amputation occurs through the shoulder joint, removing the entire arm
  • Double upper amputations , where both hands and part of the arms are amputated
  • Forequarter amputation , where the entire arm is amputated and part of the shoulder blade and collar bone
  • Wrist disarticulation , where the amputation occurs through the wrist joint, removing the hand
  • Elbow distarticulation , where the amputation occurs through the elbow joint, removing the hand, wrist and forearm


Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged up by fatty substances, such as cholesterol. This causes the affected arteries to harden and narrow.

Artificial limb

See prosthetic limb.



Contracture is the tightening of muscles around a joint, restricting the range of motion and suppressing muscular balance.



Diabetes is a long term condition that is caused by too much sugar in the blood.

Diabetes complications can often lead to ulcers in the feet, and potentially amputation. Patients with diabetes are advised by the medical profession to have regular foot check-ups as a part of their care routine so that any problems can be detected at an early stage. The risk of an ulcer developing can be assessed by a basic clinical examination of the foot.

If an ulcer develops, immediate medical advice should be sought. If the ulcer gets infected, it can advance into a serious lower body infection, with the risk of amputation if the infection spreads and/or gangrene develops.


Dysvascularity is the loss of blood supply to a limb.


Elective Amputation

A choice or decision to undergo a procedure to remove a body part, usually a limb. A delayed surgical procedure following injury or disease often after long and unsuccessful surgeries to save the affected limb.

Epidural anaesthetic

An epidural anaesthetic is an injection into the back that numbs either the upper or lower half of the body and stops pain being felt (also referred to as an epidural).


General anaesthetic

General anaesthetic is a type of pain relief used during surgery, which makes the patient lose consciousness so that the surgery can be carried out without causing any pain or discomfort.



A haematoma is a localised collection of blood, usually clotted, in a tissue or organ. Haematomas can occur almost anywhere on the body. Bruises are a familiar form of haematoma.


Limb cancer

Limb cancer is the presence of a cancerous tumour in the arm or the leg.

Limb loss

See Amputation.

Lower limb amputation

See Amputation.



Necrosis is the death of tissues in the body.


Occupation therapist (OT)

An occupational therapist assesses the functioning in activities of everyday living that are essential for independent living.


A surgical procredure to help those with both leg and arm amputations. To find out more click here.


Peripheral vascular disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a condition that affects the blood supply to a limb.

Phantom limb pain

Phantom limb pain is the feeling of pain in an absent limb or portion of a limb. This pain is often described as sharp, stabbing and severe.

Phantom pain often starts within the first two weeks after an amputation. There is effective treatment however, which can include medication, massage, hot and cold therapy, mirrow bow treatment and hypnotherapy.

For some people the pain remains with them despite treatment.

Phantom limb sensation

Phantom limb sensation is a sensory awareness of the part of an amputated limb that is no longer present. It is a common and, though disconcerting, non-painful condition.

Physiotherapist (PT)

A physiotherapist specialises in physical methods of treatment to promote healing and return to health.

Prosthetic limb

A prosthetic limb is a device which replaces a missing body part.


Residual limb

A residual limb is the part of the limb which remains after amputation.

Revision surgery

Revision surgery is performed to revise or compensate a previous operation or to remedy undesirable consequences (such as scars or scar tissue) of previous surgery. Revision surgery of an amputation may be required if there is:

  • Stump pain and/or phantom limb pain
  • Late infection of the stump
  • Revision of a skin graft used to conserve stump length
  • Improvement of the stump for prosthetic fitting


Serious trauma

A serious trauma is a severe bodily injury which can have numerous causes including an accident or violent attack.

Stump wound

A stump wound is the surgical incision of the residual limb.


Upper limb amputation

See Amputation.

See prosthetic limb.

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