Your Guide to Getting Artificial Limbs

August 25, 2020

Artificial limbs, also known as prosthetic limbs, allow people with amputations to live their lives as fully as possible. However, mobile ability and comfort require the care and dedication on the part of the prosthetist.

As experienced prosthetists and orthotists in Kansas City, our clinical staff at Horizon Orthotic & Prosthetic Experience understand the importance of a high-quality prosthetic device. Whether you’re a new amputee or an experienced prosthetic wearer, it is crucial to always do your research before you choose a provider to cater to your needs.

Therefore, before you move forward through the process, here is everything you should know about getting an artificial limb.

Who needs an artificial limb?

Upper and lower limb amputees can both benefit from artificial limbs or prosthetic devices. While a prosthesis is not a requirement, many people choose to get one as a tool to compensate for activities and daily tasks they cannot do on their own.

If you’re questioning whether or not a prosthetic limb could work for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I able to get around the way I would like?
  • Do I feel independent and self-sufficient?
  • Am I content with requiring the help of others, or would I rather do tasks on my own?
  • Do I want to live a more physical lifestyle?
  • How has amputation impacted my life?
  • Could an artificial limb help me return to doing what I love most?

Again, not everyone chooses to get a prosthesis, and that is okay! At the end of the day, if you believe an artificial device will help you better maneuver through life while reducing or eliminating complications, then you should definitely look into receiving a custom-made prosthesis.

Keep in mind that there is no perfect device that will fit everyone. Instead, you will work with a certified prosthetist to design an artificial limb that fits you best and works for your specific lifestyle goals. Whatever may have worked for your friend may not work for you. That is why it is so important to find a physician who dedicates time to perfect the right fit.

How do artificial limbs work?

On the most basic level, an artificial limb connects to your residual limb to mimic the movement patterns of the arm or leg. The design and suspension often depends on whether you are a below or above knee/elbow patient, along with how you plan on using your device. A prosthetist’s goal is to create a custom prosthetic device that feels like an extension to your body rather than an awkward hindrance.

To improve your mobility and functionality, an artificial limb is comprised of:

A Socket: The socket is a custom built structure that fits intimately around your residual limb and protects the limb from skin breakdown. It is designed to maximize comfort, control, and proprioception in the device.

Potential Problems with Prosthetic Sockets →

An Interface: The interface acts as a barrier between the residual limb and the prosthesis. Typically interfaces come in the form of gel cushions or prosthetic socks.

A Suspension System: The suspension system is designed to keep your prosthetic attached to your residual limb. The suspension of the prosthesis is very critical to maximizing the comfort, control and proprioception of the device.

A Cosmetic Cover: Cosmetic covers help to improve the appearance of a device to make it look more natural. In addition, these covers can help to protect the internal components from damage potentially caused by rain, dirt and debris.

Let’s dive into the differences between artificial limbs for arms and for legs.

Artificial limbs for arms:

Arm prosthetics improve the functionality of the arm and hand, allowing movements such as grabbing, reaching, and eating. A lot of patients choose to get an arm prosthesis to get back to their jobs. For example, a writer or painter could return to their jobs once they get used to working with the device.

Within this category there are two common types of prosthetic devices. The choice between the two will depend on the type of amputation (below the elbow or above the elbow).

Transradial arm prosthetics

A transradial prosthesis replaces the arm from below the elbow (includes the hand). This is for an amputation through the radius and ulna bones (forearm). Based on your needs, you and your provider can discuss which transradial prosthetic design would benefit you most.

Transhumeral arm prosthetics

A transhumeral prosthesis replaces the arm from above the elbow but below the shoulder. This is for an amputation through the humerus bone (upper arm). Keep in mind that these devices are more difficult to build. Think of it this way: the elbow joint can flex (bending the arm toward the elbow), extend (stretching the arm out), and rotate (twisting the arm back and forth). That is a lot of movement for one joint. Because of this, replicating the complexities of the elbow requires extreme care and years of experience.

Artificial limbs for legs:

A lower extremity prosthesis is designed to help patients with an amputation of the leg to restore their functionality. The largest benefit comes from the ability to walk. For many people, walking on their own is key to making the most out of their lives. That independence may be the difference between a positive outlook and a negative one.

Not only can patients gain walking ability, depending on the prosthetic device, many patients excel to the point where they can also ride a bike, swim, run, and participate in sports.

Similar to arm prosthetics, the design and build of a custom leg prosthetic depends on whether the amputation is above the knee or below.

Transtibial prosthetics

A transtibial prosthesis or below-knee prosthetics is for an amputation through the tibia and fibula (lower leg). Since these patients still have their anatomical knee, it makes adapting to walking with a prosthesis much easier. It also means that patients tend to regain full functionality more quickly than someone who does not have a knee joint.

Transfemoral prosthetics

A transfemoral prosthesis or above-knee prosthetics is for an amputation through the femur bone (thigh). In this case, a patient no longer has the knee joint, making the design and build of the device more difficult. However, the clinical staff at HOPE has the most advanced technology available today.  This technology includes incorporating computer chips into the mechanical knee joint to process what is happening while walking.  These advancements have dramatically improved the functional capabilities of individuals with a transfemoral amputation.

Traditional vs. 3D printed prosthesis

As you and your physician are making the decision on the type of prosthetic device you need, a 3D-printed device may come up as an option.

What You Should Know About 3D Printing in Prosthetics →

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a method of creating a physical object using a digital model. Based on the digital model, a 3D printer builds the object using thin layers of material. The method was first utilized in the 1980s for prototyping; however, as technology has advanced, so have the applications for 3D printing.

Both traditional and 3D-printed devices are made with some kind of plastic, but the plastics used for each do vary. Traditional devices are often made with plastic such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and acrylic resins. On the other hand, 3D prosthetic devices are made with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastics or bridge nylon.

Why would someone choose a 3D printing over a traditionally made prosthesis?

There are a variety of reasons why someone may choose a 3D-printed prosthesis. First, 3D printing is often cheaper than a traditional device, which is helpful for those who are on a budget or don’t have enough coverage from their insurance company (we will discuss this in more detail in the following section).

Second, 3D printing is a faster process that allows you to see customizations through a digital image before the prosthesis creation. This works great for people who want their device right away. You can also change the appearance simply by tweaking the model.

Third, 3D printing may be a good option for children and adolescents. Since they are constantly growing, it may be easier to have a fast-made prosthesis that is cheaper to switch out when needed.

Paying for your prosthesis through insurance

Everyone’s insurance benefits are different; however, we’ve found that most insurance companies pay for at least a portion of the artificial limb cost. If you come to HOPE KC for your device, we will help you understand your insurance benefits to ensure you get the most out of what they can do for you.

If you can, waiting until you have met your deductible can greatly reduce your out-of-pocket costs. After hitting your deductible, your insurance company will typically cover your device, and you would only have to worry about a co-insurance payment. A co-insurance acts as a partnership between you and your insurance company. They will pay a bigger percentage of the cost as long as you pay the rest.

We can’t give you exact numbers, because that is all determined by your insurance provider. Therefore, before making any assumptions about how much you will have to pay, always speak to your insurance company. Ask them questions such as:

  • Is this provider in my network?
  • How close am I to meeting my deductible?
  • How much will you cover if I haven’t met my deductible?
  • How much will you cover if I have met my deductible?
  • What are other costs I should consider?

HOPE KC is here to build the best artificial limbs in Kansas City.

If you’re looking to get an artificial limb in Kansas City, Horizon Orthotic & Prosthetic Experience has six different locations in the Kansas City metro area and other Missouri cities to help you achieve your goals. Our customized prosthetics are made with the patient’s specific needs in mind.

We give our patients HOPE by providing them with the tools to have their dream lifestyle.

Contact us for more information on how to get a prosthesis in Kansas City.

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