What Prosthetics Mean For People With Diabetes

Losing a limb is a trying experience for anyone. The majority of people who lose a limb lose one to diabetes, which outranks accidents or genetic disorders as the leading cause of limb loss. The risk of limb loss in the diabetic individual increases with age and the prevalence of health and wellness complications pertaining to diabetes, putting affected individuals at a risk that increases with time.

Many people with diabetes who have had a limb amputated opt for a prosthetic limb replacement. Prosthetic limbs for individuals with diabetes are designed, fitted and maintained differently than prosthetic limbs for people who aren’t living with diabetes. The concerns for diabetic patients are unique and the process is optimized for their health and personal needs.

The Facts About Diabetes

diabetic ulcersAccording to the Mayo Clinic, medical science and vastly improved treatment courses have reduced the need for diabetes related amputations by greater than 50 percent over the past two decades. This is excellent news, but with tens of millions of people living with diabetes, a significant amount of people are still left in a vulnerable position. Well more than half of all lower limb amputations that aren’t a result of direct trauma are the result of diabetes.

Over 80 percent of amputations come as a result of ulcers on the feet. Since 15 percent of these ulcers will lead to complications that affect the bone, amputation sometimes becomes necessary. This might seem like a small fraction of people, but individuals living with diabetes are disproportionately more likely to require an amputation – they’re placed at a 10 times greater risk.

While the overall prognosis for diabetics is better than it ever was, amputation is still necessary in some cases – especially when unexpected complications arise or patients aren’t carefully managing their risk factors.

Diabetes And Complications With The Feet

People living with diabetes regularly contend with a whole host of complications. Some affect general physical strength and mobility while others can impair things like vision of cognitive abilities. As far as complications that may lead to amputation are concerned, the lower body is the most vulnerable.

Diabetes is especially stressful on the feet. Early intervention allows for specific footwear to either be fitted or custom designed for individuals who have not yet reached the threshold for limb amputation. This footwear is designed to be supportive to both the arch of the foot and the ankle. The interior of the shoe is smooth and free from fabric or stitching that may be abrasive to the sensitive skin of the foot.

Most patients find that proper foot care when combined with special diabetic footwear prevents complications like ulcers or other open wounds from worsening. Some patients need custom made supportive inserts to enhance the comfort and security of the footwear.

Patients with advanced needs may require orthotic solutions. Custom made orthotic devices can be designed to make walking easier and safer. In cases where total immobilization of the foot is necessary to promote healing, a special orthotic boot can be fitted for the patient.

Prosthetics For Diabetic Limb Amputation

When preventative measures fail or are overlooked, severe injury or infection of the lower limbs as a result of diabetes may lead to amputation. Some diabetic patients who have undergone an amputation will not be candidates for a prosthetic limb.

Since diabetes affects multiple systems and abilities of the body, a patient will first need to be assessed for prosthetic eligibility. Individuals who are already experiencing severe mobility issues may not need a prosthetic device. Patients who have difficulty with balance or coordination may not be able to walk independently. Sometimes, a mobility device is a better solution. A medical professional will be able to adequately make that determination.

The Timeframe Of Diabetic Prosthetics

Diabetic amputees who are eligible for a prosthetic device may need to wait a while to be fitted. Since individuals with diabetes will typically take a while to heal, especially following a major surgery, this expands the timeframe. A prosthetic device cannot be properly designed or fitted until after the surgical wound is completely healed.

When the time is right, a training limb can be used. This limb isn’t a full prosthetic, but a technical piece that will allow medical professionals to determine whether or not the individual will be able to safely utilize an artificial limb.

Depending on the nature of the amputation and the way the surgical wound has healed, a nearly complete prosthesis may be used. As the recovery process progresses, the sockets on the limb can be modified or replaced to create a better fit. This makes the transition process easier for the patient – he or she is already familiar with the feel and function of the device by the time they are able to independently operate it.

Finding The Perfect Prosthetic Fit

Feet, and especially legs, can be heavy pieces to wear. Depending on the physical strength and muscular condition of the patient, the weight of the limb may need to be adjusted for optimum performance. It is vital that these pieces are lightweight and durable to keep patients safe and comfortable when using their prosthetic limbs.

For individuals who have undergone an amputation above the knee, the device is slightly more complex. It needs to have a knee joint that is designed to bend and lock, keeping the wearer mobile and reducing the potential for loss of balance while walking.


The socket is another area of concern. Since wounds frequently occur from stress, friction, or pressure on diabetic skin, the socket needs to be designed to prevent these common injuries. Diabetic prosthetic devices should be equipped with flexible sockets. Within the sockets, a special gel liner can provide extra comfort and a barrier between the skin and the device.

Prosthetists will work with the patient’s medical care providers to determine the best course of action. Comfort and safety will always be of the utmost importance when it comes to diabetic patients who have undergone an amputation.

Please call us today for your free consultation.