It wasn’t too long ago that amputation was the only viable treatment option for severe ulcers, tumors, and injuries on the feet and legs. (The U.S. Civil War alone caused more than 60,000 amputations, many without any anesthesia or pain relief!)
Now, thanks to remarkable technological advances, it’s possible for doctors to use limb salvage techniques to reconstruct injured limbs without the need for amputation.
Limb salvage treatment helps cancer patients, diabetics, victims of trauma, and many others by removing severe injuries and infections without compromising the patient’s overall quality of life.
What Exactly Is Limb Salvage?
Limb salvage is an umbrella term referring to a group of procedures designed to save a patient’s limb and prevent the need for amputation. The bones of the lower extremity are most vulnerable to the complications that lead to amputation, so limb salvage is most commonly performed in response to disorders between the pelvis and the foot.
Patients with poor blood supply, diabetes, and tumors are most likely to develop a complication that requires limb salvage treatment.
How Is Limb Salvage Treatment Performed?
Limb salvage requires collaboration by a team of experts: a wound care doctor, wound care nurses, vascular surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, infectious disease specialists, prosthetic experts, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy specialists team together to provide the very best outcome for limb salvage patients.
A few of the most prevalent limb salvage techniques include the following:
- Debridement and cleaning of infection
- Realign bones to prevent complications of abnormal pressure on the skin
- Install prostheses or bone grafts that fuse with original bone and make normal limb movement possible
Overall, limb salvage is performed to eliminate the potential cause of a future amputation and maintain or improve function of the affected limb.
The Two Most Common Causes of Limb Salvage
There are many unique health complications that may lead to limb salvage treatment, but two conditions are especially likely to precipitate a limb salvage procedure: peripheral vascular disease and neuropathic ulcers.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a serious blood circulation disorder caused by narrowing blood vessels. When blood vessels around the heart and brain become too narrow, blood flow slows to dangerously low levels. This leads to gradual sensations of fatigue and cramping in the legs and feet, followed by these symptoms:
- Leg cramps when lying in bed
- Reddish-blue or pale legs or arms
- Ulcers on the feet or legs that won’t heal
- A blue hue on the toes, thick and opaque toenails
- Numb and heavy muscles
You’re especially vulnerable to PVD if you smoke, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure and cholesterol. Ignoring your symptoms may lead to numerous complications that diminish your quality of life:
- Chronic pain, both at rest and when moving
- Restricted range of motion and mobility
- Wounds that can’t heal
- Life-threatening infections
- Tissue death
Tissue death and severe infections can be treated with limb salvage in order to avoid amputation and limb loss.
Diabetes does more than put you at risk for heart disease. It also greatly increases your risk of developing peripheral neuropathy, also known as diabetic neuropathy. In fact, up to 70% of people with diabetes develop this type of nerve damage.
Diabetic neuropathy is so common because high blood sugar levels damage the protective layer on the nerves and the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to nerves. Eventually, the damage becomes so extensive that nerves can’t efficiently send signals around the body. Without sufficient sensation over pressure points on the feet, diabetics face two serious problems:
- They suffer extended microtrauma that gradually breaks down overlying tissue and causes neuropathic ulcers to develop.
- They can’t sense minor injuries like scrapes or hangnails, which prevents proper treatment and enables chronic wounds to spread. Some diabetics have such advanced neuropathy that they could step on a nail and not feel a thing!
Daily visual inspection of the feet and legs is the only way to identify wounds on your body and discover neuropathic ulcers before they require amputation. If uncontrolled infection of a chronic wound is caught in time, limb salvage treatment can be used to save your foot. Otherwise, you face the prospect of amputation to stop the spread of deadly gangrenous infection.
How Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help With Limb Salvage?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound healing and limb salvage is a powerful treatment option.
Without a continuous supply of fresh oxygen through the blood, wounds simply can’t heal. Most patients who require limb salvage already have a condition like diabetes or peripheral vascular disease that restricts circulation and, as a result, the availability of oxygen to wounds.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) overcomes oxygen and circulation deficiencies by infusing the entire body with oxygen that permeates the blood and travels to all areas of the body. As soon as sufficient amounts of oxygen and nutrients are available, the body’s innate healing process begins. White blood cells enter the wound to fight infection, oversee the repair process, and build new, healthy tissue.
Since the goal of limb salvage is to remove infected tissue while protecting the bone and limb, HBOT offers an essential way to enhance the body’s natural healing capabilities and maximize the results of limb salvage.
When you use HBOT to treat your diabetic wound and prevent amputation, you can expect to experience significant benefits to your overall health:
- Decrease fluid build-up in the tissues and help oxygenated blood flow through
- Increase the cells responsible for closing wounds and forming a barrier on the skin
- Boost antibacterial activity and response to antibiotics
- Stimulate the creation of new, healthy blood cells and collagen
- Support growth factor activity to regular wound healing
Better yet, when you commit to weekly treatments in an ongoing protocol, HBOT revitalizes the body’s healing process and renews tissues affected by existing chronic wounds. Amputation doesn’t have to threaten your body or quality of life!
The Key to Successful Limb Salvage Treatment
When it comes to saving your foot or leg, you can’t take the risk of trusting your treatment to an inexperienced or unqualified doctor. It’s vital that you find a wound center like R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics that offers advanced hyperbaric oxygen therapy onsite.
The highly trained wound care experts at R3 Wound Care specialize in treating diabetic and non-healing ulcers in the lower extremities with limb salvage, HBOT, and other advanced treatments.
Lana Cameron has been practicing for over 30 years in several healthcare settings as a clinician and administrator. Her areas of practice include hospital acute care and primary care group practice. Lana received her BSN from UTMB Galveston, a MSN from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Post-Masters Certificate from UTHSC San Antonio. Lana is married and has five wonderful children.