What an Artificial Limb is – and isn’t

(Written for the new amputee)

Some people, when they hear the term 'artificial limb', think of the Bionic man and that it means a replacement limb. The truth is that artificial limbs allow amputees to make whatever they want of their lives and we read of high achievers doing extraordinary things. However, there are some restrictions to which most amputees must learn to adjust. Remember that artificial limbs take time and practice to use well, so do not expect instant results.

New Zealand made limbs are as good as, or better than, any in the world. Many components of the limbs come from Britain, Germany and the USA and prosthetists at the five Artificial Limb Centres throughout the country keep up to date with new developments in limb-making.

Because an artificial limb is exactly that - an artificial limb - it will never be comfortable all the time. You may from time to time have minor irritations, blisters and chafing from your limb. You will also feel a different kind of balance. After your prosthetist, with your help, has made sure your limb is as well-fitting and comfortable as it can possibly be, you will learn to cope with these minor difficulties and discomforts.

Artificial Legs

Basically there are two types of leg amputation - above-knee and below-knee. You will probably hear these, and their respective prosthetic legs, referred to as AK and BK.

A well-fitting and well-used below-knee leg can give you a normal gait and no-one but experts - not even other amputees - may realise that you have an artificial leg.

An above-knee artificial leg will take longer to learn to use, because it needs more balance. It will also require more concentration to walk with and will be a little more tiring.

There are a variety of feet, ankles and knees available for AK and BK limbs. Most are of a modular construction so that parts can be exchanged at the fitting stage to determine which has the best function for the particular amputee. The range of knees available is extensive, from a simple lock knee for walking which unlocks when you sit to a safety knee so that if you stumble the knee will lock with weight bearing. There are also a wide range of pneumatic and hydraulic knees and your prosthetist will discuss the options for your particular amputation.

There are also a range of liners, including urethane and silicone liners with differing levels of cushioning and these can be used for AK and BK limbs but generally after your stump has matured.

Artificial Arms

Because your arms and hands are so complex, their movements are very difficult to reproduce mechanically, so even though an artificial arm is a complicated type of prosthesis, functionally it is much more limited than a human arm and hand. Because artificial arms are so much more complicated than artificial legs, they take more training, practice and perseverance to learn to use. But the results are worth it. You can do so much more with an arm and hook than with your residual limb. Another good reason for wearing an artificial arm is that it can prevent the later development of arthritic problems from excessive overwork of your sound arm over many years.

Refer to Artificial Arms for more information.

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