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About Physiatry

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Upper Limb Amputations

Condition:  An upper limb amputation is the removal of any part of the forearm or arm.

Background: Disorders that are commonly related to amputation include trauma, cancer, infection, blood vessel disease and birth deformities or diseases. Younger men are more at risk for amputations causes by trauma, such as machinery, motor vehicle or work-related accidents.

Risk Factors:  Risk factors associated with amputation include:  trauma, blood vessel disease, exposure to chemicals, radiation therapy, infection, diabetes, high blood pressure, and soft tissue or bone tumors.

Disease Progression: Patients experiencing traumatic injury may need an immediate amputation. Patients with blood vessel disorders may have a more prolonged time course leading to amputation.  Poor blood supply, reduced sense of touch and and wound formation increased risk of infection that may ultimately lead to the need for an amputation.

History and Physical Exam: Healthcare providers obtain a thorough medical history, which includes a patient’s functional status, other injuries and complications. A complete physical exam is performed and includes assessment of range of motion joints, muscle strength, and sensation.

Diagnostic Process: Several tests may be performed to determine a patient’s need for upper arm amputation, including x-rays, MRI, CT and bone scans, and ultrasound. These tests evaluate bony structures, tumors, infection, blood flow, and nerve injury.

Rehab Management: After a patient undergoes an upper arm amputation, careful monitoring is required to assess wound healing and infection in the residual limb. Treatment includes wound dressings and/or casting, bandage wrapping, pain control, exercise, and psychological support.  Rehabilitation therapies will work with a patient on resuming activities of daily living. As the wound heals, the patient will receive support and education from the treating team to ready the residual limb for prosthetic fitting.  When ready, the patient is fitted for a prosthesis and receives support and education to master use of the prosthesis in performing activities of daily living and other goals that might relate to work or leisure.

Other Resources for Patients and Families: Several groups are available to support patients and families, including the Amputee Coalition of America, Wounded Warrior Project, American Amputee Foundation and Veteran Administration (VA) Hospitals.


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