Common causes of amputation

19 October 2020

The loss of a limb or any other part of the body will have a life-changing impact on you and your family because you will have to learn to do even the simplest everyday task in a new way. You may also never be able to do some of the things you used to. Adjusting can be a difficult and lengthy process both for adults and children.

Shoosmiths have helped many people rebuild their lives after an amputation; we can use this experience and knowledge to ensure you receive the right support at the right time. Read on to learn more about the most common causes of amputation and how we can help you.

What is amputation and why is it needed?

Amputation is the removal of a limb, part of a limb, or any other portion of the body. Once a common surgical operation, it is now usually undertaken only in cases of severe injury to limbs or, particularly in older people, when the blood circulation to a limb is inadequate and gangrene develops. The level of amputation is dictated by prosthetic requirements for an effective artificial limb, and the likelihood of obtaining primary healing following the surgery.

When planning an amputation, the surgeon takes full account of the patient’s age, general health, work and the type of artificial part (prosthesis) that will be fitted. These types of amputations are undertaken by way of ‘elective surgery’ whereby a person agrees to undergo surgery that is scheduled in advance because it does not involve a medical emergency. This was a decision made by a client of Shoosmiths: Leysa Jane Hardy. Heeding medical advice following a road traffic accident, Leysa chose to have her right leg amputated below the knee to avoid problems she might face when she got older.

Some of the underlying causes that lead to a part of the body being so damaged or infected that a medical professional recommends amputation are highlighted below.

Delay in the treatment of vascular disease

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) – or Peripheral Vascular Disease, is a ‘common condition where a build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of the leg arteries restricts the blood supply to the leg muscles which in turn make it harder for the body to repair any damage. Even the smallest injuries may not heal properly. If left untreated PAD can cause infection, ulceration and ultimately life-threatening gangrene. This can lead to the requirement for an amputation to prevent spreading to a wider area or because the infected area becomes too damaged to heal. If the delay in the diagnosis and treatment of PAD has arisen because of negligence on the part of an individual the medical professional or hospital service, there may be a claim for compensation.

Shoosmiths can assist with this – see more information about how we can help at the end of this article.


This is an increasingly common cause of amputation because it causes nerve damage and poor blood circulation. These problems can then lead to sores on the feet.

It is very important for diabetics – especially the elderly – to manage their blood sugar carefully and regularly check their feet and legs for injuries, sores, ulcers or signs of poor blood flow. Unhealed ulcers and foot infections can quickly become more serious leading to an amputation of toes, feet or legs. Sometimes a doctor may fail to identify these problems or treat them quickly enough. If negligence is proved by independent expert evidence, there may be a claim for compensation.


An accident that causes crush injuries or severe burns can lead to an amputation. This is referred to as traumatic amputations because the injury either results in the immediate separation of a limb, or the limb is likely to be lost on account of ongoing pain, infection, or immobility. 

Common causes of traumatic amputation include road traffic accidents, accidents at work, farming accidents, military injuries or electrocution.

It is not unusual for such accidents to lead to an immediate traumatic amputation either. 

Sepsis (or septicaemia)

Sepsis is a form of blood poisoning that can develop if an infection is not treated. The toxins produced by bacteria can damage small blood vessels, which then causes tissue to die. If too much tissue dies, the affected limb may need amputation to prevent further damage to other extremities and vital organs in the body.


Meningitis is an inflammatory condition which affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to sepsis. It may be bacterial, viral or occasionally fungal. Examples of bacterial causes of meningitis include meningococci and pneumococci.

Meningitis may start as a ‘flu-like illness’ but can quickly progress to a medical emergency. Any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of meningococcal septicaemia can lead to the amputation of fingers, toes, hands, feet or even whole limbs.

Compartment syndrome

Compartment syndrome is a common cause of amputation. In the body, tissue known as fascia acts to separate muscle groups. It is similar to the way plastic sleeving is used to insulate wires. Within this fascia is a compartment filled with blood vessels, nerves and other tissue.

After a traumatic accident or damage to the bone, the tissues within the compartment can start to swell. This can cause a build-up of pressure that may restrict the blood flow and cause damage to the nerves, blood vessels and tissues. Sometimes the damage can be severe enough to result in loss of body function which may lead to amputation. 

Post-operative blood clots

Clots in a vein – such as Deep Vein Thrombosis – can, if left untreated, cause swelling or more serious complications. Where the blood clot forms in an artery, urgent treatment is required to prevent blockage of the vessel and the need for amputation. 

After an operation, the risk of a blood clot increases, particularly where there is immobility. If surgery involves the lower limbs, or the repair of arteries or veins, this risk is much higher. Failing to provide blood thinning medication after certain types of surgery (known as prophylactic anticoagulants) can result in a blood clot forming.

The failure to diagnose or treat clots in a timely manner can contribute to the seriousness of the consequences which might include amputation.

Delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer

The treatment of bone cancer includes surgery.  A surgeon might try to save a limb by removing the tumour from the affected area and repairing it by inserting an implant or using a bone graft. This is called limb sparing or limb salvaging surgery. Whether this type of surgery is possible will depend on the size and location of the tumour.  If it cannot be performed a full amputation may be required.

If a delay in the diagnosis of bone cancer or the negligent treatment of cancer leads to amputation there may be a claim for compensation.


Infections can have serious consequences if misdiagnosed or not treated promptly. Some infections can result in amputation, such as:

  • Necrotising Fasciitis: This is a rare bacterial infection of the soft tissues under the skin and around the muscles that spreads quickly in the body causing irreversible tissue damage. It is considered a medical emergency and is sometimes called the “flesh-eating” disease. Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment and urgent surgery are required. Any delay in diagnosis or treatment can cause such severe damage that an amputation may be unavoidable.
  • Osteomyelitis: A painful fungal or bacterial infection that affects bone and bone marrow. Rapid diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can be successful in stopping the infection – but any delay in the diagnosis or treatment can also result in permanent damage and the loss of a limb.

Amputation and Shoosmiths: How we can help

It is never easy to come to terms with the life-changing impact of an amputation. It will affect every aspect of your life and your loved ones. If your amputation was the result of negligent medical treatment or an accident that was not your fault, it is even harder to deal with.  Shoosmiths has extensive experience of amputation claims and can help you decide whether to make a claim for compensation and then take on the burden of the litigation. We can also ensure you receive the physical and emotional rehabilitation you need to rebuild your life.

We will continue to support you long after the claims process is finished. It all starts with a free consultation – call us or send us a message today.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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