O&P Library > POI > 1992, Vol 16, Num 2 > pp. 124 - 128


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Rehabilitation after amputation for vascular disease: a follow-up study

N. de Luccia *
M. A. G. de Souza Pinto *
J. P. B. Guedes *
M. T. V. Albers *


Rehabilitation of one hundred and twenty eight patients with lower limb amputation performed for vascular disease from 1979 to 1987 was assessed. Arteriosclerotic occlusive disease was the most frequent cause of amputation (85.9%). Sixty seven patients (52.3%) were diabetic. Early and late results were analysed. For long-term follow-up evaluation, Univariate method of Kaplan-Meyer product limit was employed. Multifactorial analysis was used to assess factors influencing mortality. On immediate evaluation of rehabilitation with a prosthesis 85.2% of patients were successfully fitted. On long term evaluation 47.8% of below-knee and 22.1% of above-knee amputees were alive and using the prosthesis full time at five years of follow-up (p=0.0026). Opposite limb preservation at five years was 69.5% for diabetics and 90.2% for non-diabetics, respectively (p=0.0013). Survival rate at five years was 42.4% for diabetics, and 85.0% for non-diabetics (p=0.0002). On multifactorial analysis diabetic patients showed a risk of late mortality six times greater than non-diabetics. In conclusion rehabilitation after vascular amputation is feasible in a large number of patients, despite a limited life span. Diabetes represents a major risk factor both for life and for the opposite limb. Knee preservation is an important factor for better rehabilitation.


Rehabilitation after amputation due to vascular disease presents special features that make this group of patients particular, Advanced age, associated diseases, and vascular involvement of the opposite limb are examples of these peculiar conditions. The fate after vascular amputation is not well known in terms of rehabilitation possibilities and life span of this population (Chilvers and Browse, 1971; Weaver and Marshall, 1973; Harris et al., 1974; Jamieson and Hill, 1976; Finch et al., 1980).

The objective of this study is to assess rehabilitation in respect of walking capability, when using a prosthesis, according to the level of amputation, as well as to analyse the influence of diabetes mellitus in long term patient survival and contralateral limb preservation.

Patients and methods

From August 1979 to August 1987, 128 consecutive patients with lower limb amputation due to peripheral vascular disease were evaluated. Ninety nine were male (77.3%) and 29 female (22.7%). The age distribution is shown in Table 1. The median age was 62 years. Sixty seven patients (52.3%) were diabetic. Arteriosclerotic occlusive disease was the most frequent cause of amputation (85.9% ).

One hundred and seventeen patients were unilateral amputees (91.4%), and 11 were bilateral (8,6%). Of the unilateral patients, 65 (55.5%) had amputation below the knee, 40 (34%) above the knee, 10 (8.5%) through the knee, 1 had a Syme and 1 a Chopart amputation (0.8%). Among patients with both limbs amputated 5 (45%) were bilateral below-knee (BK), 2 (18%) were BK on one side and above-knee (AK) on the other, 2 (18%) were bilateral AK, 1 (9%) had Syme bilaterally and 1 (9%) was BK on one side and transmetatarsal on the other (Table 2).

Distribution according to age group (Table 3) and amputation level showed correlation with diabetes (Table 4).

Patients were referred to the rehabilitation centre only after amputation for initial evaluation. No patient had ever used a prosthesis before. Prosthetic fitting was attempted after medical and physiotherapeutic treatment in all the 128 cases. This was done in the specialised centre in a team approach, including one vascular surgeon, one orthopaedic surgeon, physical therapists, coordinating nurse and prosthetic technicians.

Immediate results were analysed in terms of restoration of bipedal gait. Outcome was assessed by personal interview with patients or by relatives' information in case of death. No patient was lost to follow-up. At the last consultation (average follow-up of 24.6 months) patients were classified according to the use of a prosthesis in three categories: non-wearers, partial wearers and fulltime wearers.

The Kaplan-Meyer product limit test was used for univariate analyses (Campos-Filho and Franco, 1988). Survival prognostic risk factors were investigated by multivariated analysis (Campos-Filho and Franco, 1990). For cross-tabulations the chi-square method was used.

BK (65 patients) and AK (40 patients) amputees were compared regarding prosthetic use on long term evaluation using the Kaplan-Meyer life table method. For this functional evaluation a successful event was defined as being if patients were alive and using a prosthesis full time (Table 6) or alive and using a prosthesis partial time (Table 7) at time of last follow-up.


Ambulation with a prosthesis was initially achieved by 85.2% (109/128) of all patients. These rates for unilateral amputees were: 91.1% (61/67) for BK (including one Chopart and one Syme amputation), 80% (32/40) for AK and 90% (9/10) for through-knee. Bilateral amputees were initially successful in wearing a prosthesis in 63.6% (7/11). These patients were: 1 with Syme's amputation bilaterally, 1 with transmetatarsal on one side and BK on the other, 4 with BK bilaterally, and 1 with AK bilaterally. These results are summarised in Table 5.

Survival and prosthetic use rated as full time or partial time at 5 years was 58.0% for BK and 38.6% for AK (p=0.045), as shown in Table 6.

Survival and prosthetic use rated as full time at 5 years was 47.8% for BK and 22.1% for AK (p=0.0026), as shown in Table 7 (Fig. 1).

General survival rate at the end of five years was 42.4% for diabetics, and 85.5% for non-diabetics (p=0.0002) (Table 8). On multifactorial analysis diabetic patients showed a risk of late mortality six times greater than non-diabetics (Table 9). Opposite limb amputation occurred in 9% (11/117) of patients with unilateral amputation. This incidence was higher in the diabetic group (p=0.0013) (Table 10).


Peripheral vascular disease is the leading cause of amputation in many western countries (Mooney et al., 1976; Christensen, 1976; Fleurant and Alexander, 1980; Liedberg and Persson, 1983). Elderly, atherosclerotic patients usually with associated diabetes is the pattern frequently observed (Cameron et al., 1964; Steer et al., 1983; Most and Sinnock, 1983; Liedberg and Persson, 1983; Falkel, 1983). Despite the fact that in some series (Mooney et al., 1976) diabetes has been related to amputation in younger age, in this study it was prevalent over the age of 50 (Table 3). Furthermore, due to the more distal arterial involvement, it has been observed that the level of amputation may be lower in the diabetic population (Kihn et ai, 1972; Burgess and Marsden, 1974; Kacy et al., 1982). This was also observed in this series, as is seen in Table 4.

Rehabilitation has been studied in terms of immediate and late results. For immediate results, success was considered as being achieved when a prosthesis was fitted, and a patient attained an independent gait at the end of initial treatment. By this measure 85.2% of all patients reached this condition (Table 5).

Late evaluation comparing BK and AK amputees, the most significant groups, showed better results on survival and prosthetic use full or partial time for BK amputees (Table 6). This difference was emphasised when only full prosthetic use was considered (Table 7), pointing out the limitations imposed on AK amputees and the importance of knee preservation.

Survival comparison between the diabetic and non-diabetic populations showed a significant statistical difference (p=0.0002) highlighting diabetes as a risk factor. This observation prompted also a multifactorial analysis, relating diabetes with a six times higher mortality risk (Table 9).

Applying the same cumulative survival method for the preservation of the opposite limb of unilateral amputees, diabetic patients also had more contralateral limb amputation. This has also been reported by others (Bodily and Burgess, 1983).

In conclusion, rehabilitation after amputation for vascular disease is associated with limited life span, but it is feasible and rewarding in a large number of patients. Diabetes is a major risk factor for both survival and limb preservation. Prosthetic fitting is frequently achieved, restoring the gait and mobility conditions essential for normal living. Knee preservation is an important factor for better rehabilitation.


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O&P Library > POI > 1992, Vol 16, Num 2 > pp. 124 - 128

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