Angie's LIST Guide to
Prosthetics and Orthotics

Prosthetics are a type of artificial unit or device that replaces a missing body part. A prosthetic can help improve your quality of life and ability to complete day-to-day tasks and enhance self-esteem.


A patient gets fitted for orthotics, which can help relieve foot pain. (Photo by Raymond Alderete)

When you may need a prosthetic

Most prosthetic devices work in conjunction with your skeletal, muscle and nervous systems to make the prosthetic feel as natural as possible. Some devices may assist defective body parts to provide added mobility and range of movement.

If you're faced with a congenital birth defect such as a missing leg or arm, a prosthetic can replace the part and enhance your mobility in conjunction with other body parts. 

A traumatic injury resulting from a car crash, military conflict or industrial accident can sometimes result in a part of the body becoming damaged beyond repair. Loss of blood flow or any type of interruption of the blood supply to veins and muscles can make injuries permanent, resulting in amputation.

The most common type of prosthetic is found outside of the body, but there are some types that can serve important roles on the inside; these types can be key to your survival. Artificial heart valves are essential to those who suffer from congenital defects and heart disease. Artificial lungs and hearts are being studied closely to analyze their health benefits for patients who are waiting for transplants. Other prosthetic devices may include dentures for the mouth, hearing aids and artificial eyes.

Types of prosthetics

Seeking the advice of your orthopedic doctor or surgeon is the first step in finding the right prosthetic for you. An orthopedic surgeon who specializes in prosthetic surgery has access to the consultants, developers and manufacturers of some of the most popular and widely used prosthetics. Some of these manufactures include Scott Sabolich, Fillauer and Shriners Hospital.

Depending on the body part that requires a prosthetic, you can select from several different types based on your needs and budget. Most commonly, you'll find limbs made from silicone to resemble the appropriate body part and skin tone. Often referred to as cosmesis, the prosthetic is designed to match your appearance and includes veins, hair and moles. Depending on your insurance coverage and price range, you can have one custom made and custom fit. Standard models will come in predesigned sizes and skin tone. These types of limbs are attached via suction, non-comedogenic adhesive or a type of skin sleeve for long-lasting comfort and breathability.

A robotic or mechanical prosthetic is a good choice if you've suffered a type of brain injury or paralysis. A myoelectric device is set up to control the path of movement between your muscles and nervous system as well as the device. Small sensors detect electrical activity on the skin through needled electrodes implanted throughout the body. The feedback results in an actuator that produces force and movement. Patients have to meet specific criteria to qualify for this type of prosthetic.

Common prosthetic parts for the lower body include a syme or a prosthetic at the ankle, a knee disarticulation and a hip disarticulation.

If you're physically active, you can employ a prosthetic to help you run more effectively and limit the impact of movement on your limbs.

Orthotics also may be used in conjunction with a prosthetic to immobilize a certain area of the body and prevent further strain or discomfort. They may be used to help reduce pressure on other body parts that are affected by a prosthetic.

Benefits of prosthetics

A prosthetic can help free you from a disability or issue that may be holding you back. You may struggle with the decision to get fitted for a prosthetic, so be sure to address your emotional needs as well.

Complete adjustment to living with an artificial limb or extremity may take time, but there is support available in physical and occupational therapy programs. Regaining performance is key when it comes to having the right prosthetic. Working to adjust to life with your prosthetic will eventually make it second nature.


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