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How Disabling is a Lower Extremity Amputation?

Close to 2 million people are living with limb loss in the United States. In fact, more than 500 Americans lose a limb each day. Amputation of the leg, either above or below the knee, is the most common amputation surgery.

For some, an amputation might improve their quality of life. For others, an amputation might set off a cascade of further health decline. Ultimately, the long-term prognosis of the patient depends on the reason for the amputation.

If you have had a lower extremity amputation and are unable to work to your full capacity, there could be financial help available to you. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to a health issue such as amputation.

What Exactly is an Amputation of a Lower Extremity?

Lower extremity amputation is a surgery to remove all or part of the leg. The primary cause of an amputation is a vascular disease, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease. In these types of conditions, blood is unable to flow freely to the extremities.

As a result, inadequate blood flow may result in the death of the tissue. Other reasons for amputation may include a severe injury to the leg, an acute infection, cancer, or frostbite.

An amputation requires a hospital stay, and there are certain potential complications associated with the surgery. For example, vascular patients who have decreased blood flow may have difficulty with wounds healing after surgery. Some patients experience infection after amputation. Other complications include blood clots and cardiovascular issues.

Close to 80% of amputees experience phantom limb pain (PLP), a painful sensation that appears to come from the limb that is no longer there. Phantom limb pain is treated with medications and non-pharmacological methods of pain relief such as acupuncture, massage, and biofeedback.

Many people who need an amputation suffer from depression, anxiety, and grief. For some, these emotions can significantly alter their ability to work and live.

The recovery process varies for amputees. Some amputees require an assistive device such as a wheelchair or walker to move around. Others may decide to use a prosthetic device. A prosthesis is an artificial replacement for a missing limb.

How Disabling is a Lower Extremity Amputation?

What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?

Those who require an amputation may face a broad range of symptoms, and they all might affect the ability to work differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists the criteria for disability benefits in the Social Security Blue Book. Here are some signs that you might qualify for financial assistance from the SSA:

  • If you have had an amputation of your leg above the ankle and you now have difficulty walking, you may not be able to perform your job effectively. For example, if you got an infection in your stump that now makes the use of a prosthetic device impossible, you may qualify for assistance from the SSA.
  • If your amputation has resulted in the need for a walker or wheelchair at all times, you may be eligible for financial assistance.
  • If you have had an amputation all the way up to your hip, you will likely qualify for benefits.
  • Often, an amputation is a result of other significant health issues. If you have vascular disease, cardiac disease, or other health-related issues, the SSA will take those into consideration when reviewing your application.
  • As discussed above, amputees often suffer from mental and emotional difficulties that can make work very challenging. If you are suffering from psychological symptoms related to your amputation, you may qualify for help.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, your medical records will need to show that your health difficulties are severe enough to prevent you from working at a level that would allow you to support yourself.

Additionally, the symptoms related to your amputation need to be expected to last for at least 12 months. Many amputees will recover earlier than this unless there are several health comorbidities.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security benefits that are related to your amputation, you may be asked to provide the following:

  • Surgical notes from your amputation.
  • Extensive notes from your physician, including documentation of your ability to ambulate, with or without a prosthetic device, as well as any complications that have occurred as a result of your amputation.
  • X-rays or other imaging results that address your amputation.
  • Notes from your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider that describe your symptoms and prognosis.

If you are missing any of the above information, contact your doctor or hospital immediately. If you have medical evidence on your side, you’ll better your chances of receiving SSDI benefits for your amputation.

What’s Next?

If you are an amputee who is having difficulty working, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. Amputation surgery and recovery can be quite challenging. A qualified attorney can help you navigate the Social Security application process, leaving you time to focus on what’s most important: your health.