Multiple secondary grafting procedures may be necessary in cases of complete or partial amputation of the lower limb if the aim is to preserve the initial limb length. The traditional concept of staged reconstruction often leads to a prolonged hospitalisation and a high complication rate, especially in cases with segmental nerve defects of more than one major nerve and severe skin loss. To minimize multiple secondary operations of soft tissue and bone, we have developed the concept of primary shortening with secondary limb lengthening. We perform a primary shortening of the amputation stump and the severed limb at the time of replantation, in order minimize the skin defect and to undertake a primary wound closure and/or primary nerve suture. Six to 12 months after replantation, secondary limb lengthening is started, using an external or internal distraction device. Since 1985, 7 patients presenting with complete or partial amputation of the lower leg had been treated using this concept. The indications, operative technique, complications and results are shown and discussed, comparing this new concept to the traditional concept with extensive free soft tissue transfer and secondary nerve grafting. (C) 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.