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YOUR WELL-BEING: Facts about emotional recovery.

Caregiver and person with limb loss practicing walking. The process is ongoing, and it is difficult to predict

Losing a limb is life changing. This process affects nearly every aspect of life, from work and play to friends and family. People respond differently to the loss of a limb. How you respond might relate to one or more of the following.

  • Factors associated with the loss: Was it congenital, traumatic, or disease-related? What is the level of amputation?
  • Individual characteristics: What are your age and health status? How will this affect you financially?
  • Personality traits: How do you cope with difficult situations? Do you feel a sense of control despite the loss?
  • Environment: Do you have a support system? Are the services you need appropriate and accessible? How might your living arrangements be modified?

Recovery is an ongoing process. Although several phases typically occur on the road to recovery, it is difficult to predict when each will occur and in what order. Each phase has special challenges and requires different strategies.

Through working with people with limb loss or limb difference, and consulting appropriate evidence-based literature, the Amputee Coalition has developed a model for recovery specific to our community. This model is less driving instructions in which a new amputee crosses off the steps and more a map with major landmarks that can help you orient yourself.

You might experience a range of emotions. Research has found the common emotional concerns after limb loss are depression, anxiety, grief, and trauma. The American Psychiatric Association describes emotional and well-being issues that occur after an amputation.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD can occur in anyone who experiences a traumatic event, especially if it was life-threatening such as a military injury or car accident. The symptoms range from flashbacks to overall emotional numbness. Other symptoms include anxiety, exaggerated startle reactions, nightmares, insomnia, and extreme avoidance of reminders of the trauma. A combination of symptoms that occur six months after the traumatic event may be PTSD.
  • Acute Stress Disorder: The symptoms that define ASD greatly overlap with those of PTSD. The major difference is the time since the trauma. ASD can occur in the first month. If ASD symptoms continue, an assessment for PTSD may be appropriate.
  • Depression: There are many types of depression disorders. Most are marked by feelings of sadness or loss of interest in activities. It can lead to emotional and physical problems and decrease your ability to function.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: GAD is characterized by chronic worry and irritability that seem to have no cause for at least six months. The worry is more intense than the situation warrants. Restlessness, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and muscle tension are other symptoms.
  • Grief: Grief is a sometimes overwhelming emotion and a natural reaction to loss. Everyone experiences grief differently. Such feelings are common after an amputation. There are five common stages that can occur in any order and last for any amount of time.
    • Denial and isolation: A conscious or unconscious decision to refuse to admit something is true.
    • Anger: An emotional or physical act in which you attempt to place blame.
    • Bargaining: A process in which you attempt to postpone or distance yourself from reality.
    • Depression: A feeling of hopelessness.
    • Acceptance and hope: A feeling of stability or resignation as you become an active participant in your life.

Everyone’s emotional recovery will look different after the loss of a limb. The important thing is to remember you are not alone.

For all the facts on emotional recovery, please visit Emotional Recovery – Amputee Coalition (

Phase Characteristic Description
Enduring Surviving surgery and pain Physical anguish: Hanging on; focusing on present to get through pain; blocking out distress about future, a conscious choice not to deal with full meaning of the loss; self-protection; may refuse peer visit.
Suffering Questioning; Why me? How will I …? Emotional anguish: Intense feelings: fear, denial, anger, depression; return to Enduring stage.
Reckoning Becoming aware of the new reality Changing roles: Coming to terms with extent of loss; accepting what is left; implications for future; minimizing your own losses in comparison to others.
Reconciling Putting the loss in perspective Regaining control: Increased awareness of strengths and uniqueness; taking control; self-management of recovery; changed body image; need for intimacy.
Normalizing Reordering priorities Regaining balance: Establishing new routines; once again doing things that matter; allowing priorities other than loss to dominate; self-advocating.
Thriving Living life to the fullest Being more than before: Trusting self and others; being a role model; not everyone attains this level.