When Is Amputation the Only Option?
What Is Limb Salvage?
Several of our podiatrists here at Triad Foot Center specialize in life-saving surgeries known as limb salvage. The term ‘limb salvage’ sounds rather graphic, but encompasses many different types of techniques that can improve quality of life and functionality of the foot or ankle. Limb salvage is the retention of a limb when amputation might have otherwise been the only option.
One form of limb salvage is a surgical procedure where diseased bone is replaced with a metal implant, bone graft or combination of both (known as allo-prosthetic composite). In many cases, a limb reconstruction leads to an improved quality of life due to the patient keeping their limb. Limb salvage surgery is usually performed on individuals that have certain types of bone cancers (such as osteosarcoma), tumorous growths, or soft tissue sarcomas. The goal is to remove any cancerous tissue while maintaining as much function, durability and appearance of the limb as possible.
Limb salvage surgery is also performed to relieve pain from arthritis and fractures. This procedure, called arthrodesis, is a surgical immobilization of the joint so bones will remain permanently static. Arthroplasty is similar to arthrodesis, except the entire joint is removed and replaced with a prosthetic one.
In some cases, those with severe or traumatic injuries are also candidates for limb salvage procedures.
When Amputation Is Considered
First and foremost, every person’s course of treatment is different and catered specifically to their individual case. The decision to salvage or amputate part of a foot, including toes, is one of the hardest decisions a podiatric surgeon can make. However, there are some cases in which a patient’s situation may be too severe to consider a limb salvage procedure and amputation is considered instead, such as when functionality of the limb isn’t a realistic outcome. A podiatrist may also consider amputation of the foot when there has been a traumatic injury with a high-grade open fracture, or severe vascular or nerve damage. Several other factors are also taken into account, such as a patient’s age, support system, lifestyle and occupation, physical condition, mental health and attitude, economic status and other conditions.
Ultimately, limb salvage is a serious and often lengthy process. Some limb salvage treatments can span years of follow up debridements, stabilizations, reconstructions and grafts. Like any other surgery, there are risks involved with limb salvage procedures. However, when conditions are favorable, limb salvage can create opportunities to live a fulfilling life with a functioning limb. The intensive training our podiatric surgeons have undergone enables them to work hand-in-hand with their patients to ensure that a comprehensive, thorough course of treatment is prescribed for potential limb salvage patients.
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