Prosthetic & Orthotic Information Resource

Prosthetic Limbs - aka Artificial / Prosthesis Devices

Types of Prosthesis

Transtibial
*(Below-Knee)
Trans-femoral
*(Above-Knee)
Trans-radial
*(Below-the-elbow)
Trans-humeral
*(Above-elbow)

What is a Prosthesis?

A Prosthesis is a an artificial limb designed to replace body parts such as arms, hands, legs, and feet that have been lost due to disease, traumatic accidents or the like.

syme procedure, amputational surgery prosthetic replacement

Artificial Limbs

Prosthetic Device Development

An artificial limb is also known as a prosthesis; prosthetic devices are used to replace missing extremities, such as arms , hands, fingers, legs, feet and even toes. Prosthetic replacement parts are widely available for the human population and similar prosthetic-like devices have even been constructed for our canine friends and other common pets.

Artificial limbs may be needed for a variety of reasons, including disease, accidents, and congenital defects. A Birth defect is a widely-used term to describe what is more appropriately called a congenital malformation. A congenital, physical anomaly is typically recognized at birth. According to the CDC most birth defects are believed to be caused by a complex mix of factors including genetics, environment, and behavior of the mother during pregnancy. Though many birth defects have no known cause, they can create the need for an artificial limb when a person is born with a damaged, or missing limb.

Industrial, vehicular, and war related accidents are the leading cause of amputations in developing areas, such as large portions of Africa, and the US actions in Iraq. In more developed areas, such as North America and Europe, diseases such as cancer, infection and circulatory disease are the leading causes of amputation.


The type of prosthesis (artificial limb) used is normally determined largely by the degree of the particular missing extremity. In some cases where a limb was lost due to an accident or time of war (Iraq), surgical procedures may be required prior to getting a prosthetic replacement. When a limb has been amputated due to medical reasons, an orthopedic surgeon will be able to amputate the affected limb in order to properly facilitate a prosthesis.

Types of Prosthesis

There are four main types of artificial limbs. These include the transtibial, transfemoral, transradial, and transhumeral prostheses. The type of prosthesis depends on what part of the limb is missing.

Trans-Tibial (Below-Knee) Prosthesis

A Trans-Tibial Prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces a (lower) leg missing after a below the knee amputation. Transtibial amputees are usually able to regain normal movement more readily than someone with a transfemoral amputation, due in large part to retaining the knee, which allows for easier movement.

Trans-Femoral (Above-Knee) Prosthesis

A Transfemoral Prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces a leg missing above the knee. Transfemoral amputees can have a very difficult time regaining normal movement. In general, a transfemoral amputee must use approximately 80% more energy to walk than a person with two whole legs. This is due to the complexities in movement associated with the knee.

Trans-Radial (below-the-elbow) Prosthesis

A Transradial Prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces an arm missing below the elbow. There are two main types of functional prosthetic arms available for below-the-elbow amputees: Cable Operated limbs work by attaching a harness and cable around the opposite shoulder of the damaged arm. Hands are also available which are opened or closed by the cable.
The other type of Transradial Prosthesis available is the Myoelectric Arm. These work by sensing, via electrodes, when the muscles in the upper, or forearm contracts or releases, causing the prosthtetic hand to open or close.

Trans-Humeral (Above-elbow) Prosthesis

A Transhumeral Prosthesis is a prosthesis designed for people who have had their arm amputated above the elbow. It is available in electronic and mechanical versions. The design has a functioning elbow that can be used for bending the arm. Transhumeral amputees experience some of the same problems as transfemoral amputees, due to the similar complexities associated with the movement of the elbow. This makes mimicking the correct motion with an artificial limb very difficult.

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