Emotional Recovery After Amputation

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 15, 2021
4 min read

Losing a body part is a massive change in anyone’s life. Whether the amputation is due to a serious illness or a sudden traumatic injury, the emotional effects of limb loss are significant. Physical and mental recovery can be complicated and take a long time. 

People expect to struggle with the physical recovery from amputation, but emotional recovery is just as important. Losing a limb may mean a change in self-perception as well as a change in how people treat you. You may lose some degree of independence, and your career choices may change. You might feel a sense of loss the same as if you lost a person you love. ‌

Learn more about the emotional aspects of amputation and how to manage your mental health as you recover.  

The reason for an amputation can affect how you handle it emotionally. If the amputation is because of a known health condition, you will have time to plan for the change. You may be able to prepare emotionally for the recovery process. For people who have been in pain or discomfort prior to amputation, there may be a sense of relief once the operation is complete.‌

The emotional impact of losing a limb due to an accident or injury is different. You can’t prepare for a sudden trauma such as a car crash or an injury during military service. You may learn you have lost a limb after it has already happened. The process can lead to significant PTSD symptoms.‌

You should connect with a mental health worker to discuss your emotions after your amputation. They can help you find ongoing support that will help you manage your mental health. Your family members and loved ones may also need to talk to a mental health worker. An experienced counselor can teach them how best to support you.

Some people experience grief after losing a limb. This is natural since grief is a normal response to losing something beloved or important. Experts encourage amputees and their loved ones to learn about the grieving process. Understanding the emotional process of letting go can make the strong feelings less alarming.

It’s important to understand that grief can be a long-term process. Losing a limb is a permanent change. While you may get used to the new way your body works, you may always miss your old body.‌

Talking about your grief with other amputees or with a mental health counselor can help you manage your feelings.

Depression is a common response to amputation. For some people, the depression will pass as they get used to their new normal. For others, depression can be a persistent problem. ‌

People who are facing chronic depression after an amputation should get treatment. Support groups and mental health professionals are very helpful for people who need emotional support. Antidepressant medication may help some people. If you think you need antidepressants, you should speak to your doctor about a prescription. ‌

In some cases, depression is so severe that people resort to self-harm or attempt suicide. If you are concerned that someone you love is considering suicide or other self-harm, call for help immediately. The suicide prevention hotline number for the United States is 800-273-8255, or you can call 911 for emergency assistance. 

Making a plan for your life after an amputation should include plans for mental health care. Support groups of other amputees will provide a sense of community and shared experience. Mental health professionals can guide you through complicated emotions. Friends and family can make sure you still have access to people, places, and activities that you love. 

Set goals. Work with your care team to set reasonable goals for your recovery. Clear objectives for rehabilitation, career planning, and life skills will give you a sense of purpose. Once you achieve each set of goals, you can begin planning for the next phase of recovery.‌

Form positive routines. Having daily routines is comforting for all kinds of people. Setting up a general plan for how your days will go will keep you motivated and reduce the chances that you’ll find yourself idle. Make sure your routines include fun or inspiring activities such as hobbies, time with loved ones, religious observances, or entertainment, such as movies or music.

Optimism and a sense of purpose.Embracing a positive outlook may help your mood. Focus on the progress you’ve made on recovery goals. Reward yourself when you feel proud of your achievements. Consider what you would like your life to look like in the future and set out on the path to achieving new things. Career goals, community service, or learning new skills all provide a sense of positivity and purpose.