How does a leg prosthesis work?  What does it look like?  Why are some metal rods while others look like real legs?

Danielle Hill, CPO
Danielle Hill

When it comes to how your prosthesis looks, the options are endless.  However, there are three main factors that predominantly affect how the prosthesis looks.  First, your prosthetist will select the components that are most appropriate for your activity level and life style.  There are hundreds of different feet and knees available, and they each have their own attributes in relation to how active the patient is.  Your prosthetist will work closely with you to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and determine which components are most appropriate.  This will enable you to be as independent as possible, while still maintaining proper safety and stability.

The second portion of the prosthesis will be the attachments.  These components will act to hold the prosthesis together from top to bottom.  This includes the metal tube in the middle, called a pylon, as well as plates and screws to attach the feet and socket.  These components are fairly streamlined, and do not vary significantly from patient to patient.  Within the socket, there are several attachment options that work to secure the device to the patient.  Often, these components are housed within the socket and are not visible from the outside.  However, they may include a sleeve over the leg or a pump to pull vacuum.  These variances typically do not affect the overall design of the prosthesis.

The final portion of your prosthesis that will be designed is the socket.  This is the portion that actually connects to your residual limb.  When it comes to socket design, there are multiple options available.  Occasionally, a patient will be put in a plain plastic socket, with no particular design or color in mind.  This is typically used as a temporary device when a patient is ready to start physical therapy.  For long term devices, the socket will be either a skin-tone color or a custom design chosen by the patient.  Traditionally, the socket was laminated with a pigment to match the patient’s skin tone.  Then, a foam cover was shaped to match the leg in order to give the impression of it being a ‘real’ leg.  However, in recent years it has become more of a trend for patients to leave the metal exposed and design a custom socket.  Society as a whole has become more accepting of prostheses, and amputees now look to show case their socket.  Design options can include their favorite color, an exciting pattern, or a logo from their favorite sports team.  We have had patients include a tattoo that they used to have on their limb, and even had sockets air-brushed to match their motorcycles.  As I said before, the opportunities are endless.

Ultimately, our goal is to design a prosthesis that our patient is proud to wear, giving them the ability to be confident when returning to their normal activity level.

Danielle Hill, CPO