by Hugh J. Panton, CPO, Vice President, Hanger Orthopedic Group

Have you seen the television commercial where the man wearing prostheses on both his right and left legs leaps into the air and shoots a basketball at the hoop? That's pretty impressive. But I'm an amputee, I wear only one prosthesis, and I can't do that! Of course, the other side to that story is that I'm over 50, a little out of shape, and playing basketball is of no interest to me.

Lightweight Materials

With all of the technological advances in prosthetics, almost all things are possible for an amputee to function in just about any manner in today's society. We have lightweight components made from titanium, special knee units for cadence control, ankle units that simulate natural movement, and feet which literally "store energy" to assist in ambulation. We have arm units that move in response to muscle signals from electrodes. The list goes on and on with a multitude of prosthetic systems, combinations of components, and variables for hybrid systems.

With all these choices for creating a prosthesis, it stands to reason that you need a prosthetist who is a professional in the field, who is experienced and knowledgeable, and with whom you can build a confident rapport. Your physician will give you a prescription for a prosthesis, but the actual prosthetic design and fit can dictate your ability to function comfortably, efficiently and lead a life of your own choosing.

Communication is Key

If, while trying to obtain the right prosthesis, you brought your prescription to my office, you would find that communication is our byword. The first questions I ask are those which allow me best to evaluate your physical condition, stamina, and general health. I want to know about your work, family life, and how you live, as well as what goals, ambitions and hopes you have for the future. Then, it's my job to help you determine those things in your routine daily living that make you feel you are as vital a part of society as you were before the amputation.

The best prosthesis is the one designed for your unique needs. In upper limb prosthetics, for example, providing a high-powered, electronically-controlled, myoelectric prosthesis to an amputee living in the Peruvian rain forest doesn't make much sense. The moisture would ruin the electronics; mold would pervade the inner-socket; and where would the person go for routine maintenance and minor repair? My first suggestion in such a case would be a non-electronic arm.

In lower limb prosthetics, a prosthesis for a retired, elderly man who is sedentary most of the day and walks briefly in his garden a few times a week would be a sturdy, lightweight design with a good comfortable fit. I certainly would not suggest a prosthesis using the components that would be needed by a long-distance runner.

So, what is the best prosthesis for you? It's not necessarily the one that is the most high-tech, the most expensive, or the one most widely advertised. The best prosthesis for you is the one designed by a prosthetist in whom you have trust, who is experienced and ethical, and who has credentials with which you feel secure. This qualified professional will provide a prosthesis geared to your lifestyle for safe, dependable use and comfortable fit. Once that is accomplished, you can meet your requirements for daily living and, hopefully, with practice and time, reach some of those goals on your wish-list.

Last updated: 09/18/2008
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