amputation (ămˌpyətāˈshən) [key], removal of all or part of a limb or other body part. Although amputation has been practiced for centuries, the development of sophisticated techniques for treatment and prevention of infection has greatly decreased its necessity. Surgical amputation is currently performed in cases of bone and tissue cancers, gangrene, and uncontrollable infections of the arm or leg. An amputation is performed as far above the affected area as is necessary to remove all unhealthy tissue and to leave a portion of sound tissue with which to pad the bone stump. Whenever possible amputations are performed at points on the limb that permit the fitting of prosthetic devices (see artificial limb). Ceremonial amputation of finger joints has been practiced in parts of Australia and Africa in conjunction with male initiation rites. In some areas of New Guinea women have finger joints amputated to signify mourning.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.