Arm amputation

21 January 2022

With the right support in place, an amputation doesn’t have to alter the quality of your life.

If you understand the amputation process, how it might affect your life, and the support that is available, it can make all the difference to your future quality of life. Read on to find out more and to see what options are available to you.

What does arm amputation mean?

Amputation is the partial or full removal of a limb. Once a decision has been made to remove part of a limb, the level of amputation needs to be decided, that is the point at which the amputation occurs. In the case of an upper limb, which is the area from fingers to shoulder and includes the arms, the levels which impact the arm are:

  • At the shoulder (or shoulder disarticulation)

  • Above the elbow (or transhumeral)

  • At the elbow (or transradial)

An amputation that occurs below the shoulder will be considered a partial amputation. In rare or more severe cases, a person may have both of their arms amputated. This is called a double upper amputation.

The level at which an amputation occurs impacts the amputee’s future needs, such as the type of prosthetic, aids and equipment and the extent of care and assistance required.

What are the causes of partial or full arm amputation?

An amputation may occur because of a traumatic injury or following surgical intervention.

Accidents are the most common cause of traumatic amputations and can involve the immediate separation of a limb. The level of the amputation suffered in an accident may not be the final extent of the amputation. If the amputee suffers tissue damage this may lead to further removal by surgery. In some cases, the accident may not result in an immediate amputation. There may be an attempt to save the limb, but if the injuries do not heal or are so extensive the limb cannot be fully saved this may result in an early and sometimes lifesaving post-accident amputation.

The most common causes of a traumatic arm amputation include workplace accidents involving machinery; road traffic accidents; or accidents involving defective household products. Any accident that leads to the immediate and traumatic loss of an arm can be life-threatening. This is due to the risk of shock, blood loss and infection. If the person involved receives the medical attention they need as soon as possible, it shouldn’t be fatal. It’s even possible, in certain circumstances, for an amputated arm to be surgically re-attached following an accident, although re-attachment of fingers and hands is more common. This procedure is called ‘replantation’, and for any hope of success, needs to happen within a few hours after the accident.

Non traumatic causes of amputation include illnesses and medical conditions such as: diabetes; meningitis; compartment syndrome; delays in diagnosing vascular disease or cancer; post-operative blood clots; and infections.

Individuals who have been injured in accidents but initially did not require an amputation because there was hope a limb could be saved, may, as a last resort after many years of treatment and surgical interventions, opt for a voluntary amputation. This may be to relieve chronic pain, reduce the risk of infection or because nerve and ligaments damage has destroyed or severely impaired functionality of the limb, such that replacement by a prosthetic may be considered a better option.

For more information read our article about the common causes of amputation.

What does an arm amputation procedure involve?

It’s usual for an arm amputation procedure to take place under general anaesthetic (where you are unconscious) or epidural anaesthetic (which numbs the lower half of the body). This depends on whether it’s a partial or full arm amputation.

The surgical approach will depend on a number of things such as: the part of the body affected, the reason for the amputation and the extent of damage to the bone or tissue.

In a standard amputation (by which we mean an amputation that does not require a more complicated surgical approach), the bone in the remaining part of the limb is likely to be shortened to help a person regain as much movement as possible after the amputation. The muscle is then stitched to the point to give the remaining part of the limb extra strength. To complete the procedure, the stump wound will be sealed with either stitches or staples.

How common is arm amputation?

Fortunately, amputations are rare and a last resort wherever possible, but this may provide little comfort for anyone living with an amputation.

The official arm amputation statistics for finished consultant episodes (FCEs) for English NHS hospitals over the last three years are noted in the table below. An FCE means a continuous period of admitted patient care under one consultant and within one healthcare provider.





















The total number of partial or full arm amputation FCEs for England was down 2% in 2018, increased slightly in 2019, dropped dramatically in 2020 and is back on the rise in 2021. Covid-19 may have had an impact on the figures in 2020.

Most FCEs related to wrist and hand amputations, with less than 1% resulting in full arm amputation. It is clear from the data that male patients are more likely to lose an arm, hand or finger.

The impact of arm amputation

An upper limb medical expert we use once explained that the function of the arm is to allow us to “put our hands in the air”. By that he meant the arm (shoulder, elbow) allows us to use our hands and fingers to undertake tasks that are within the range of our reach, either close to or far away from our body. An arm amputation takes away that ability and can affect all areas of life, including:

  • Dressing, personal hygiene, eating / taking nutrition
  • Mobility and movement
  • Inability to climb
  • The ability to work
  • The loss of the hand and sense of touch

It is still possible to enjoy a high quality of life after arm amputation, but there will be a period of adjustment and rehabilitation. We partner with world-leading specialists in prosthetics, care, physiotherapy, rehabilitation and accommodation. This places us in a good position to help you during this period of adjustment by ensuring you are aware of the latest medical and technological advances so that you can make choices to improve aspects of your new life. We will also put you in touch with the right people so that we can build a support network tailored to your exact needs.

We can also provide guidance when it comes to deciding whether to engage the services of a Case Manager to help with care and assistance, aids and equipment and understanding whether you are entitled to state benefits.

What are the consequences of an arm amputation?

In the short-term, you may experience post-operative pain or bleeding – as well as “phantom limb”. This is a unique condition where you feel pain or sensation in the amputated arm. You may also need to deal with:

  • Ongoing emotional distress and feelings of loss

  • Pain and soreness in the ‘stump’

  • The possible need for revision surgery

We can put you in touch with experts and support groups to help you understand, prepare and overcome these issues – and longer-term concerns such as slow healing, infection or even conditions like deep vein thrombosis.

How can Shoosmiths help with life after arm amputation?

Our team of serious injury solicitors have many years of experience dealing with amputation claims. If your amputation was caused by either an accident that was not your fault, or the negligent treatment you received from a health professional, we can investigate your circumstances to establish whether you can make a claim for compensation. We can also assist with your rehabilitation and recovery. Any compensation you receive will help cover the cost of any care, ongoing treatment, lost income or even an arm replacement prosthetic.

Talk to us for free and in confidence. Call 0808 301 7915 today or send us a message.



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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