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Life after the loss of a limb

The loss of a limb can have devastating physical, financial and psychological effects. But life goes on after the loss of a leg, arm or hand. What's it like to lose a limb? What challenges do amputees face and how do they cope? Does everyone who loses a limb experience "phantom pain"?

In this blog post, we will answer some of these questions and examine the physical and emotional effects of limb loss.

Limbs are lost through disease, accidents, and military injuries

First, let's look at what happens during an amputation. The surgeon examines the patient and determines where to cut. The goal is to remove all of the damaged tissue and retain as much of the limb as possible. The surgeon will suture the patient's veins, arteries, bones, and nerves and cut and shape the muscles in such a way as to allow the fitting of a prosthesis after recovery. Usually, the patient will stay in the hospital one to two weeks, and will start physical therapy upon discharge.

What happens next

An amputee has to adjust to a completely different reality. He or she may need to learn how to perform daily tasks in new ways. An amputee may no longer be able to work in his or her former occupation or enjoy certain leisure activities. The psychological effects can be immense as well, with depression being a major problem. In addition, there is the phenomenon of "phantom pain" in which an amputee feels pain, burning, or itching in the limb that is not there. Not every amputee experiences phantom pain however. If the nerve endings in the limb are deadened within 12 hours of the injury, an amputee may not experience phantom pain.

It can take time to learn how to walk with an artificial leg, and the prosthesis may need periodic refitting. An amputee who uses an artificial leg may suffer blisters, irritation and sores where the leg meets the stump. New technology is making a difference in the lives of wearers of prosthetic devices though, such as new materials, hydraulic legs that allow variance in walking speed, and computerized parts that allow a user to make real time adjustments while walking.

Work accidents are a major cause of limb loss

A person who loses a limb during a work accident is entitled to workers' compensation benefits, based on whole person ratings. Because of the significant effects an amputation can have on the life and earning ability of a victim, an amputee should consult with an attorney about his or her claim. To give just one example why, consider the fact that a prosthesis wears out due to use. A young amputee may need to have several prostheses built and custom-fitted over his or her lifetime, so any lump sum settlement needs to account for the costs of replacement limbs plus any needed additional physical therapy.

Before accepting a lump sum settlement, speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney.

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