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Severed or Constricted Limbs or Digits

By Amy H. Kaji, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

Body parts such as fingers and toes can become severed (amputated). Also, tissue may die because blood flow has been cut off by rings or other constricting devices. Rings cut off blood flow when parts of the body near the ring swell, often as the result of an injury or simply because of constriction by the ring.

Severed body parts, if properly preserved, can sometimes be reattached in the hospital. To prolong tissue life, the severed part should be put in sterile gauze or a damp paper towel or washcloth and then placed inside a sealed, dry plastic bag. The bag should then be put in another bag or container with ice. Dry ice should not be used. The severed part should not be placed directly in water.

An injured finger will probably swell. Thus, if a ring is on an injured finger, it should be removed as soon as possible, before swelling develops. Similarly, any other object that encircles a body part, such as a finger or toe or an arm or a leg, must be removed before the body part swells. Sustained, gentle traction can be used to remove rings. Soap and water may reduce friction, easing removal. Otherwise, prompt medical care is needed.