When someone is finally ready to get a prosthetic limb, they will likely have a lot of questions about how the process works. Prosthetics are not what they used to be. A number of advancements in medical technology have reshaped the way that prosthetics are designed and intended to be used.
Obtaining a prosthetic can be a lengthy process from beginning to end. This is because prosthetists have a lot of hard work to do. These are the people who make functioning limbs possible, and they do their work on a case by case basis. When you’re ready to start the process, it helps to know what a prosthetist is doing for you and what to expect in the near future.
What Are Prosthetics?
Prosthetics have a lot more applications than most people may realize. Though prosthetics are commonly used to replace limbs, they are also often used to replace bones and teeth. Prosthetics exist for anything as small as a toe to as large as a leg and their main goal is to improve quality of life for the individual using them.
Prosthetics restore independence and make everyday tasks easier outside of their cosmetic applications, though some people opt to receive prosthetics purely for cosmetic reasons. This is an equally valid reason to opt for a prosthetic, as many recipients truly feel and perform their best when they feel secure in their self confidence.
Almost anyone who has lost an appendage as a result of injury or illness can receive a prosthetic replacement once they have recovered enough to do so. Limitations will be removed and some patients will be able to return to their former routines as soon as they are settled in with their prosthetic.
Your Options When Selecting Prosthetics
The two most commonly available kinds of prosthetics are body powered prosthetics and cosmetic prosthetics. They both have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s best to consult with a professional about what would work best for you in the long term before you come to a final decision. Most individuals find that a body powered prosthesis is the optimal solution.
What Body Powered Prosthetics Do
Body powered prosthetics are equipped with special cables that allow the wearer to perform functions with their existing muscles. They are not designed for multitasking, but they will allow the user to slowly and deliberately perform a single task at a time. These kinds of prosthetics offer a little more power, however they can cause muscle fatigue with frequent use.
What Cosmetic Prosthetics Do
Cosmetic prosthetics tend to be easier on the budget, but they don’t offer the kind of versatility that body powered prosthetics do. With a cosmetic prosthetic, the user is limited in their ability to grip or hold objects, though the prosthesis will perform many of the same functions that an organic limb would. They cannot restore fine motor skill ability, but they will allow the individual to gently hold lightweight objects.
Technology Helps Prosthetics Open New Doors
Prosthetics used to be heavy and cumbersome to use. Many patients would opt out of prosthetics, fearing that they would be burdensome and unable to enhance their lives. Advances in technology have allowed prosthetists to design and create lightweight prosthetics that maintain a higher level of durability while remaining comfortable to the individual.
Many newer prosthetics are far more functional than prosthetics in decades past. Through improved design capabilities and stronger materials, the field has transformed to suit the needs of the individuals who depend on it the most.
How Prosthetics Are Designed
The most important aspect of prosthetic design is matching the prosthetic to the recipient. General fit prosthetics wouldn’t serve much of a functional purpose. Prosthetics need to be intuitive to use and balanced to the wearer in order to be used effectively. This is especially necessary for body powered prosthetics that work in conjunction with healthy muscles to move intuitively.
Body powered prosthetics are designed to use the force of your own body to work. The limb is attached to a harness that wraps around the body. With an arm prosthesis, a comfortable piece resembling suspenders goes across the shoulders and is concealed by clothing. The design of the prosthesis and its accessories allow movement of the healthy muscle to operate the prosthesis.
Though the end result may not appear lifelike, the prosthesis will perform in a lifelike manner. Every piece is intended to replicate as much of the function of a natural limb as possible.
The Way Prosthetics Are Composed
Every prosthetic limb has a socket. This socket fits over the remaining portion of the limb. Inside of the prosthesis is a lightweight frame, acting effectively as a skeleton. In most cases, this skeleton rests beneath a covering that is colored to match the flesh of the recipient.
The joints of a prosthetic will differ depending on what part of the body they are used, and whether or not a complex joint like a knee or an elbow is being replaced. Amputations above the knee or above the elbow require more joints. Some joints are designed to bend, while others are designed to rotate. The joints in each prosthesis are entirely customized to the needs of the user.
The suspension system for the prosthetic varies from case to case. Some individuals find that a suction mechanism will keep their prosthesis in place just fine. Other people may require belts or straps to affix and use their prosthesis. The use of sleeves and special amputation socks make the prosthesis more comfortable to wear.
Having Your Prosthesis Customized
A great prosthesis always designed to provide the maximum amount of function, and that amount will always vary based on the needs of the individual. Every prosthetic is designed specifically for its intended recipient through a series of measurements and tests. The goal is to make the prosthetics for the people and not the people for the prosthetics. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable and capable when wearing their prosthesis.
Customizing a prosthesis is technically a lifelong process. Muscle growth or atrophy can affect the fit and functionality of a limb, requiring new fittings or suspension systems. When a prosthesis fails to perform or becomes uncomfortable, a new round of customizations is in order.
Being Fitted For Your Prosthesis
Seldom is the first prosthesis the final prosthesis. Every individual is different and as a person heals and regains muscle, the fit of a prosthesis will naturally change. The first prosthesis a person receives will be a temporary socket, designed to help the wearer become active and improve mobility. The final fit will come once medical professionals are satisfied with the level of progress the patient has made.
Sometimes, changes are made during the final fit to accommodate the person who will ultimately use the device. Some people prefer a final prosthesis that weighs slightly less than the first fit. Active people seeking leg prostheses might prefer a finished product that’s a little more shock absorbent for the purposes of walking or running.
A lot of people who use a prosthesis will want to repair or upgrade their prosthesis on a regular basis. Gaining or losing weight or changes in muscle development can affect the way a prosthesis fits and works. Just like any valuable piece of technology, prosthetics should be tuned up and adjusted periodically in order to perform their best. If they become uncomfortable over time, a new fitting is likely the correct solution.
Making The Most Of Your Prosthesis
In order to be healthy, happy and active, people who use a prosthesis may need to attend physical therapy sessions. The ability to grip an object with a prosthetic arm is the result of a supervised learning process, as is walking again with a prosthetic leg. A specialist can identify and resolve difficulties in this process, whether it be the user needing special assistance or the prosthetic device itself requiring adjustments.
Children or teenagers who use prosthetics will need these visits slightly more often than adults. Teens and children are still growing and this will affect the way their prosthetics work. Seeing a physical therapist at regular intervals makes it possible to adjust prosthetics or obtain a new fit before the previous configuration becomes problematic. Being proactive streamlines the process.
Since the average prosthesis is designed to withstand approximately three years of regular use, even grown adults should visit their physical therapists regularly to check the condition and functionality of their prosthetics.
The Financial Aspects Of Obtaining Prosthetics
If you don’t hold private insurance to offset the costs of obtaining a prosthesis, you may qualify for Medicaid. Certain demographics, such as people living with disabilities, children and senior citizens, are more likely to be granted Medicaid access. Those who cannot obtain Medicaid may be eligible for Medicare coverage through the social security administration. Some states have special funding programs for people in need of prosthetics who cannot afford them. A medical professional may be able to direct you to specialized resources.