Rudimentary prostheses have been used since antiquity, to replace missing limbs, teeth, etc. Their use and sophistication has increased over time. In addition to the standard artificial limb for every-day use, many amputees or congenital patients use specialised limbs and devices to aid in the participation of sports and recreational activities.

A prosthesis is an artificial limb or extension that replaces a missing body part. It is part of the field of biomechatronics, the science of fusing mechanical devices with human muscle, skeleton, and nervous systems to assist or enhance motor control lost by trauma, disease, or defect.

An artificial limb is a type of prosthesis that replaces a missing extremity, such as arms or legs. The type of artificial limb used is determined largely by the extent of an amputation or loss and location of the missing extremity. Artificial limbs may be needed for a variety of reasons, including disease, accidents, and congenital defects.  Inside the body, artificial heart valves are in common use with artificial hearts and lungs seeing less common use but under active technology development. Other medical devices and aids that can be considered prosthetics include artificial eyes, palatal obturator, gastric bands, and dentures.

In recent years there have been significant advancements in artificial limbs. New plastics and other materials, such as carbon fiber, have allowed artificial limbs to be stronger and lighter, limiting the amount of extra energy necessary to operate the limb. With advances in modern technology, cosmesis, the creation of life-like limbs made from silicone or PVC, has been made possible. Such prosthetics, such as artificial hands, can now be made to mimic the appearance of real hands, complete with freckles, veins, hair, fingerprints and even tattoos. Cosmeses are attached to the body in any number of ways, using an adhesive, suction, form-fitting, stretchable skin, or a skin sleeve.

There are four main types of artificial limbs.

These include the transtibial, transfemoral, transradial, and transhumeral prostheses. The type of prosthesis depends on what part of the limb is missing.

  • Transradial Prosthesis – A transradial prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces an arm missing below the elbow. Two main types of prosthetics are available. Cable operated limbs work by attaching a harness and cable around the opposite shoulder of the damaged arm. The other form of prosthetics available are myoelectric arms. These work by sensing, via electrodes, when the muscles in the upper arm moves, causing an artificial hand to open or close.
  • Transhumeral Prosthesis – A transhumeral prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces an arm missing above the elbow. Transhumeral amputees experience some of the same problems as transfemoral amputees, due to the similar complexities associated with the movement of the elbow. This makes mimicking the correct motion with an artificial limb very difficult.
  • Transtibial Prosthesis – A transtibial prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces a leg missing below the knee. Transtibial amputees are usually able to regain normal movement more readily than someone with a transfemoral amputation, due in large part to retaining the knee, which allows for easier movement.
  • Transfemoral Prosthesis – A transfemoral prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces a leg missing above the knee. Transfemoral amputees can have a very difficult time regaining normal movement. In general, a transfemoral amputee must use approximately 80% more energy to walk than a person with two whole legs. This is due to the complexities in movement associated with the knee. In newer and more improved designs, after employing hydraulics, carbon fibre, mechanical linkages, motors, computer microprocessors, and innovative combinations of these technologies to give more control to the user.

Other less prevalent lower extremity cases include:

  • Knee disarticulations – This usually refers to an amputation through the knee dis-articulating the femur from the tibia.
  • Symes – This is an ankle disarticulation while preserving the heel pad.

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