The Overall Picture of Artificial Limbs
Simply put an artificial limb replaces an amputated body part such as an arm, leg, hand, or a finger. The field of prosthetics has been successful in developing devices which are made of light-weight materials such as carbon fibers, composites, aluminum, and aluminum alloys. These materials are particularly beneficial when
used in upper-limb prosthetics such as hands and fingers. In addition to advancements in materials, improvements in prosthetic design have enabled amputees to be fit with prosthetic devices which are not only cosmetically appealing but will function in a manner very similar to the natural limb. As with a natural arm or leg prosthetics use the muscles found in the residual limb, along with different types of mechanical mechanisms, to power the prosthesis.
Types of Prosthetics
There are three types of prosthetics:
- Artificial Lower Limb
- Artificial Upper Limb
- Artificial Hand
Prosthetic legs use power generated by the hip and thigh muscle to achieve forward movement. The key components of this prosthesis are the socket, knee, and ankle. A great deal of its success is dependent upon the proper fitting of the socket. If improperly fitted, the leg will not align properly and will lack in stability. Upper limb replacement can range from devices which offer a great deal of functionality, to prosthetics which are used for cosmetic purposes only. Artificial hands can range from types of hook systems to a complex prosthetic device which is capable of manipulating each finger independent of the others.
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Artificial Limbs – Types of Prosthesis
“Transtibial prosthesis” refers to an artificial limb attached below the knee. Amputees with this type of prosthetic find it relatively easy to regain mobility, primarily because they were able to retain full functionality of the knee. A “Transfemoral prosthesis” is an above the knee replacement. This type of amputation involves the removal of the knee. Because of the complex functions performed by this type of prosthesis, patients find it far more difficult to master the operation of this artificial leg. “Transradial prosthesis” replaces the lower part of the arm. Amputees have the option of choosing a prosthetic device which is operated by a harness and cable, or a unit known as a “myoelectric” arm which uses sensing electrodes to control the hand. “Transhumeral prosthesis” is used in cases when the arm has been amputated above the elbow. As with the knee, learning to manipulate the artificial elbow can be extremely frustrating and involve months of patience and training.
This type of prosthesis uses signals which originate in the nerve endings of muscles adjacent to the area of amputation to control elbow and hand movement. These signals are received by electrodes placed on the skin and then sent to the artificial limb to enable control of the functions of the artificial hand, wrist or elbow. Although many amputees prefer a myoelectric prosthetic, current body-powered prosthetics have one advantage. The new generation of these devices is much lighter than myoelectric units; in fact they are only a third of the weight.