Sometimes people are born with a shortened or partial arm or hand: these are called congenital limb differences. Sometimes, people lose part of their hand or arm later in life: these are called acquired amputations. Medically speaking, all limb differences are labeled as amputations, even when people are born with a difference. Since there are many ways that amputations can happen, this article can give readers an idea of what different people experience.

Congenital Limb Differences

Many congenital limb differences occur in utero due to restrictions in blood flow, like amniotic bands wrapped around a developing limb. Other congenital differences, including partial hand differences such as symbrachydactyly, have unknown causes. It’s up to the person with the limb difference what kind of terminology they want to use — "congenital amputee" or "person with a limb difference." It’s also up to them to decide if they want to identify themselves as “disabled.” People with a congenital limb difference may choose to use a prosthesis as a child or as an adult, or they may choose not to. While they may be able to navigate life without a device, this can result in overuse issues in the other upper limb, back and neck.

Traumatic Amputations

These are amputations that occur because of a workplace accident or an accident while enjoying leisure activities (out on an ATV, wakeboarding, fireworks). No matter the amputation level, it can be really hard to go through the process of losing a part of oneself. Trauma is the most common cause (see introduction) of upper extremity amputations. The experience of trauma can magnify the psychological impact of limb loss, resulting in issues with anxiety, depression and substance abuse. To help identify these issues, our clinicians created The Wellness Inventory.

Planned Amputations

There are different situations for planned amputations. Sometimes it is the result of cancer, sometimes it is the result of drugs that were given to the person to save their life (usually this is the result of a severe sepsis case). Other times, people wind up getting revision surgeries after a medical team has tried without success to save someone’s fingers, hand or arm after an accident.

Elective Amputations

Sometimes people decide on this option after other attempts to save a limb or reduce pain have not worked. Some of our patients have experienced pain for years that they would like to live without. Other people have had multiple surgeries and had the same outcome of a non-functioning arm over and over before deciding it was time to amputate. It’s a different journey for everyone, but the refrain that our clinical team has consistently heard when people do come to this decision is, “I wish I’d done this earlier.”

No matter the reason for someone’s amputation, a prosthetic device can help them find new ways to perform tasks they may have had trouble with or return to tasks that help them with work or their recreational life. Our Arm Dynamics prosthetists work with each patient individually to find the perfect fit for their body and their life, and our clinical therapy specialists work to help patients learn how to use their device.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a complimentary consultation with our clinical team, either in person or via video chat, please contact us. If you have any comments, please leave them below.


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