February 13 2020

What Can Cause the Loss of a Limb?

In Canada, there are approximately 200,000 amputees. The three most common causes of limb loss are from disease, accident and congenital limb difference. Statistically, the most frequent limb loss is the loss of a portion of the foot and leg, either transtibial (below the knee) or transfemoral (above the knee).  Below we will delve into these three common causes of limb loss.


Lower Limb Loss Caused by Disease


There are a number of diseases that can cause amputation. The most common ones are; vascular disease, including diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, blood cots, osteomyelitis (an infection in the bones) or osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  In Canada, the number one cause of amputation is vascular disease due to complications of diabetes.

In some cases, diabetes causes your blood vessels to narrow which causes reduced blood flow and eventually leads to not being able to feel pain in your legs.  Therefore, if a wound or ulcer on your foot occurs you may not even realize it is there.  If the wound is not detected infection can occur, it can spread to your bones or rest of your body. To prevent the infection from fatally taking over your body, the amputation of the damaged limb is the only option.

It is estimated that throughout the world, that every 30 seconds a leg is amputated.  Of these amputations, 85% were the result of a diabetic foot ulcer.


Limb Loss Caused by Accident


This type of limb loss is typically the most traumatic because of where it stems from. This limb loss is often caused by accidents such as; workplace, motor vehicle, sports or to military personnel.

The most common reason for limb loss in a workplace accident is the lack of proper training or unguarded machinery.  When it comes to workplace accidents that cause limb loss, the majority of them are preventable with the proper procedures in place.

When an amputation occurs because of a motor vehicle or sports accident there is often not a lot of time to process the fact that there will be the loss of a limb. Often the procedure happens as a life-saving measure and there are even times that a family member will have to make the decision for the injured party.

Often in the above circumstances, the emotional and psychological rehabilitation is just as important as the physical rehabilitation because of the extreme situation in which the limb loss occurred.


Limb Loss Caused by Congenital Limb Difference


Congenital limb difference is when an arm or leg doesn’t form normally as a baby grows in the uterus. This happens in about 8 births out of 10,000. Congenital limb difference can affect one or multiple limbs.  It can occur in both upper and lower limbs but upper limb difference is more common.  The cause of this is mostly unknown but there are some factors that could increase the chances of it occurring including gene problems or the mother being exposed to a virus, a large amount of chemicals and/or specific medications.

After the birth of a child with a limb difference, the goal of the medical team is to encourage independence, create a plan that best suits the child and their family to succeed in their day to day lives. This could include rehabilitation therapy and the use of prosthetics or orthotics, or possibly even surgery. A medical team that the parents and child are comfortable with is important in order to provide the best opportunity for the child to attain self-independence.  This is essential so that they can meet the challenges ahead, and lead a full and happy life.




Disability Credit Canada

Amputee Coalition of Canada

Amputee Coalition