Take a moment to consider your hands. Just think about how amazing and complex they are - how they can be precise enough to repair a watch and strong enough to throw a punch. Think about your feet; the coordination of nerves, muscles and bones required just to stand up is almost unfathomable. Now imagine that you are a prosthetist, working to build prosthetic limbs for amputees. How could you even hope of making a simple machine to replace organs so complex and powerful?
A prosthetic limb can restore some of a lost limb’s abilities. While prosthetics can’t provide the full functionality of a natural limb, they do present significant potential. New advancements in prosthetics are made daily, and they are becoming closer and closer to the real thing. The process involved in making a prosthetic limb takes skill, knowledge and determination; a prosthetist needs to have both the knowledge of a medical doctor and the knowledge of an engineer. Since each patient’s body and amputation is unique, each prosthesis must be custom made. The entire design and production process comprises several steps:
1. A prosthetist measures the patient’s body precisely - if possible, before the amputation - to determine the size of the prosthetic limb.
2. Before surgery, the prosthetist and surgeon discuss the operation.
3. When the wound has healed and the swelling is gone, a plaster mold is made of the residual limb.
4. A duplicate of the residual limb is made from the mold and used to adjust the fit of the prosthesis during construction.
5. Doctors prescribe physical therapy after both the amputation and the fitting of the prosthesis.
Prosthetic limbs can be controlled in many ways, depending on how they’re built. For example:
- Body-powered prosthetics are connected via cables to other parts of the body. For example, a prosthetic arm uses a cable attached via strap or harness to the opposite shoulder. The patient controls the prosthesis by moving the working shoulder in specific ways.
- Externally powered prosthetics use motors that the patient can control in several ways. For example, a patient may use his or her working muscles in the residual limb to move the prosthesis by toggling switches or buttons in a specific sequence.
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