As a new amputee, or even if you experienced limb loss in the past, prosthetic limbs restore mobility and give you the ability to manage your life independently.
Here are answers to some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from amputees and their families. Keep in mind that this information is not a substitute for speaking with your medical provider or prosthetist, who is the expert in prosthetic limbs. Keeping your scheduled medical appointments is important as you go through this process.
- When do I get my prosthesis? On average, from the time a patient is evaluated to the time they are fit with a prosthesis can be anywhere from 4-6 weeks. The process involves more than what you, as the patient, experiences in the clinic setting. There is also work taking place behind the scenes. It is difficult to predict precisely since every prosthesis is unique and customized to the individual and some can take more or less time, depending upon your needs. We understand that you are eager to regain your independence. The goal is to restore independence as quickly as possible but your safety is of the greatest importance and concern
- What kind of prosthesis will I be getting? Gathering information about your level of physical fitness and health, the amputation level, the demands you place on the prosthesis and your future goals are just a few things that will help us determine what type of prosthesis would be most appropriate. A prosthetic limb for a 20-year-old traumatic amputee who wants to return to work in the construction industry will vary greatly from that of an 80-year-old nursing home patient who only uses a prosthesis for transfers or to go to the bathroom, even though both be amputated at the same level. The use of predictive and muscle testing results can also shed light on what type of prosthesis would allow you to safely and effectively engage in activities you need and want to do.
- Why is my prosthesis so heavy? Overall weight is a consideration with every prosthesis but is especially important with regard to those with vascular disease. Ideally, the prosthesis should be as light as possible while still providing the necessary strength and features needed to safely meet your needs, as an amputee. In some cases, feeling as though your prosthesis is heavy may not be related to the weight of the device at all. It is more related to your needing to take the time to adjust to wearing a prosthetic device. Wearing the prosthesis loosely and generalized weakness can also create a perception that the device is heavy.
- Can I wear my prosthesis 24-hours per day? Most physical aids such as prostheses, contact lenses, and dentures, for example, typically are not meant to be worn around the clock. Most prosthesis involve the use of silicone or urethane liners, which create an environment where the skin can become more susceptible to breakdown.
- Why are prostheses so expensive? Medicare establishes the pricing for all of the components that comprise a prosthesis. This is called the Fee Schedule and accounts not only for the specific component but also the practitioner’s time in fabricating, fitting, and/or adjusting the component or components properly.
- Will my prosthesis look like my “real” leg? Prostheses used to be what is called an exoskeletal design which had a more anatomical look, however most modern prostheses are typically an endoskeletal design which is more “robotic” looking. Exoskeletal prostheses were typically very heavy and difficult to adjust at times, whereas endoskeletal designs are much lighter and easier to adjust. In order to make an endoskeletal prosthesis look more like a “real” leg, foam can be used to cover the structural components and provide a more anatomical shape. Although they are often referred to as “cosmetic covers”, only protective covers are typically reimbursable and establishing medical justification for such a cover can be a challenge. A protective cover might be warranted for some patients such as an amputee who hopes to return to working in a chemical plant where the risk of damage to the prosthesis exists. Simply having a cover to make the prosthesis look more natural when wearing shorts or a skirt is not likely to be a covered service.
- Will my prosthetist teach me how to walk again? The prosthetist’s goals are to ensure that the prostheses they deliver to patients are fitting and functioning properly which usually involves some training. However, learning how to walk again and/or achieve functional goals while wearing the prosthesis is where physical therapy can be of great benefit.
- Can I get my prostheses wet? It depends. This question should be discussed with your prosthetist, as there are some components that are unaffected by water and some that can be damaged beyond repair.
- Can I drive with my prosthesis/prostheses? There are plenty of examples of amputees who drive their own vehicles, so it is possible. However, the State Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) will likely want you to establish that you can do so safely. Contact the DMV to see what is required, if anything, for you to do so legally and safely.
- Will my insurance cover the cost of a prosthesis? Many insurance companies now offer a variety of “plans/policies” to let patients select the one that best suits your needs. It is a good idea for you to refer to your own policy to see if prosthetic services are covered and the specifics of your health plan.
Mobility and independence are basic human rights and we know the challenges that amputees face. We work with you and your family to help you get back to an active and independent lifestyle. At PVA Prosthetics, we are well versed in all aspects of prosthetic care and have participated in research and beta testing for some of the most innovative companies in the industry.