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How are artificial limbs designed and fabricated?

If possible, the design of a prosthetic device begins before a limb is amputated, with a prosthetist taking precise measurements that will be used later to design the prosthetic limb.

Detailed measurements are taken of the patient's body to help size the prosthetic limb. The doctor and prosthetist also meet prior to the surgery to discuss details of the operation.

After the amputation is completed, after the wound has had some time to heal and after swelling has gone down, a plaster mold is made of the residual limb. The mold serves as a template for duplicating the residual limb. Then, the duplicate is used to test the fit of the prosthetic limb while it is being built. Newer technologies also allow computerized digital measurements to be taken. Keen attention is paid to the structure of the patient's residual limb, which includes the location of muscles, tendons and bones. Other factors taken into account when designing the prosthetic device include the patient's health and the condition of his or her skin.

Especially close attention is paid to the interface between the residual limb and the prosthetic socket. Following an amputation, a patient's residual limb typically will shrink over a period of several months as the swelling diminishes and the muscles begin to atrophy, or shrink from a lack of use. It is possible that the new sockets may need to be fitted to match the reduction in size. The amount of sock-like dressings also can be varied to accommodate the changing size of the residual limb. A prosthetist must work particularly closely with children, to ensure their prosthetic limbs are matched to keep up with their natural growth.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.