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What are some of the different types of prosthetic limbs?

There are different types of prosthetic limbs that are designed with different goals in mind. These goals often depend on the needs of the patient and the site of the amputation.

A cosmetic prosthetic limb, for example, is designed with appearance rather than controllability in mind. This kind of prosthesis is called a cosmesis and it uses advanced plastics and pigments that are uniquely matched to the patient's skin tone. Even details such as hair, freckles and fingerprints can be included which makes the cosmesis nearly indistinguishable from the missing original limb.

The i-Limb prosthetic hand, from Touch Bionics, offers differ types of grips and improved control through the device's individually powered fingers.

A common controllable prosthetic hand may be made up of a pincer-like split hook which is able to open and close to grip objects and perform other tasks. It can be covered with a glove-like covering to make it look more like a natural hand.

Functional prosthetic limbs can be controlled in various ways.

With body-powered prosthetic limbs, cables are used to control movements in another part of the body. A prosthetic arm, for example, can be controlled through a cable attached with a strap or harness to the opposite, healthy shoulder. This works somewhat like a hand lever on a bicycle to control brakes, but in this case you are moving your healthy shoulder in certain ways to move the prosthetic device.

Prosthetic limbs that are have external power motors can be controlled by the patients in many ways. One method involves a switch control which allows a patient to toggle switches or buttons to move his or her prosthetic device.

The patient may toggle the switch by using the opposite shoulder, or use his or her remaining muscles to push the switches. A prosthetic arm or hand can perform various motions, so different sequences of toggling the switch might be needed to perform desired tasks.

Listening to the muscles in the residual limb that patient can still contract is a more advanced way to control a prosthetic limb. Muscles generate small electrical signals when they contract, so electrodes placed on the surface of the skin can measure movements. No buttons are pressed, but the electrodes detect the contractions and then are used to control the prosthetic limb.

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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.