Amputation is the loss or removal of a body part, often legs, arms or digits. Traumatic amputation is when the loss of the appendage happens suddenly and unexpectedly as the result of an accident. A motor vehicle accident is one of the most common causes of traumatic amputation.
A traumatic amputation can be partial or complete. In a partial amputation, there is still some tissue connecting the severed part to the rest of the body. In a complete amputation, the severed part separates completely from the body.
In some instances, it may be possible to reattach a body part amputated in a motor vehicle accident. However, it is not always advisable.
Severity of the injury
An amputation being partial or complete is not what determines whether reattachment, or more accurately replantation, can take place. Rather, it is the severity and nature of the injury. If the amputated part experienced crushing forces or if the amputation was the result of pulling, replantation is more difficult, and the results less assured, than if the amputation occurred as the result of a clean cut.
Restoration of function
It is basically impossible to restore an amputated body part to its pre-injury condition. Patients and doctors can hope for at most 60% to 80% recovery of a limb’s original function in terms of sensation and movement. If doctors think that the patient will not regain that level of function or may get better results from a prosthesis than from replantation, they may not attempt the latter at all.
Certain factors can give a patient potentially better results from replantation. For example, the chances of the nerves growing back are better when the patient is younger, i.e., a child or adolescent, than for adult patients.
The more difficult the replantation procedure, the more likely it is that complications may set in. Examples include scar tissue buildup that prevents movement or failure of the replantation, requiring surgical removal of the affected body part. Sometimes the risk of reattaching an amputated limb is greater than the potential gain.