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Prosthetic Care FAQs

What is prosthetics?

Prosthetics is the science and practice of evaluating, designing, fabricating, fitting and delivering a prosthesis or artificial limb. The profession is unique as it combines art with science, and rewarding because of the personal satisfaction in improving the quality of life for amputees. The field began to expand in the late 1950's after World War II and the need for prosthetic devices increased.

What is a prosthetist?

A prosthetist is an allied healthcare professional who is specifically educated and trained to manage comprehensive prosthetic patient care. This includes patient assessment, formation of a treatment plan, implementation of the treatment plan, follow-up and practice management.

What is a Certified Prosthetist (CP)?

ABC Certified Prosthetists are healthcare professionals that have demonstrated knowledge and competence in the field of prosthetics.  Their qualifications include a college degree in prosthetics and orthotics or in some cases, a college degree plus a prosthetic certificate program, followed by a yearlong formal residency program. These individuals are then eligible to sit for a three part series of rigorous examinations to test their knowledge and skills in this discipline. ABC Certified Prosthetists must also maintain their credential through continuing education. Individuals who meet these qualifications are certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC). Patients may also see the title (CPO), which means the practitioner is certified by ABC in both prosthetics and orthotics.

What does a Certified Prosthetist do?

An ABC Certified Prosthetist evaluates the needs and goals of individuals with amputations and limb deficiencies in order to design, make, fit and maintain prostheses (artificial limbs). Prosthetists are trained in the processes necessary to make all levels of prostheses for upper or lower limbs. They work closely with those who have amputations due to accidents, congenital problems or disabling diseases to restore physiological function and/or appearance. To provide this care effectively and comprehensively, ABC Certified Prosthetists must have specialized education and skills that enable them to match current and emerging prosthetic techniques and technology to their patients’ needs and goals.They form and implement a prosthetic treatment plan, provide follow-up care, and coordinate services with related medical professionals.

ABC Certified Prosthetists can assist patients in:

  • Walking safely and efficiently
  • Improving prosthetic functionality
  • Identifying environmental barriers including social, home and work reintegration
  • Improving overall balance
  • Accommodating special circulatory requirements
  • Enhancing the actions of limbs compromised as a result of accident, congenital deformity, neural condition or disease

How can patients find an ABC Certified Prosthetist?

ABC offers a free searchable database of its Certified Prosthetists (CPs) and accredited orthotic and prosthetic facilities to assist patients in finding a qualified professional and facility.

When considering a practitioner's credentials, patients should look for:

  • completion of a formal education, a structured residency program and clinical experience
  • passage of a series of written and hands on clinical examinations
  • completion of ongoing continuing education courses

Patients may also see the title (CPO), which means the practitioner is certified by ABC in both Prosthetics and Orthotics. A practitioner’s certification should always be verified, as this is an indication of qualifications. As a CP or CPO, practitioners are bound by ABC’s standards of ethics, making them accountable to the patient, the physician and the profession.

Do prosthetists specialize?

Prosthetists that make limb prostheses (CP’s or CPO’s) may have additional training or experience in other areas. Depending on the type of facility in which a prosthetist works, their clientele or perhaps their personal interest and self-study, some may spend the majority of their time working with certain kinds of prostheses (upper limb or lower limb), certain conditions (congenital limb deficiencies, trauma or amputations due to cancer), or with certain age groups (pediatrics or adult care). While some prosthetists work in hospitals, healthcare or rehab centers, many are affiliated with independent orthotic and prosthetic facilities.

How can patients find a facility that works best for them?

Picking the right facility is just as important as picking the right prosthetist.

Patients should consider a few questions:

  • Is the facility accredited? ABC operates a stringent accreditation program that indicates that the facility meets strict quality guidelines.
  • Does the prosthetist have experience or additional training working with different levels of limb absence, age groups, activity levels or specific types of prosthesis? As techniques and technology in prosthetics advance, prosthetists have to keep up with the changes by attending continuing education courses or conferences.  Make sure the prosthetist you choose is keeping up to date. In addition, some manufacturers of knees, feet or electronic arm components require prosthetists to attend specific courses in order to acquire and fit those products. 
  • How convenient is the facility? While this might not be a final factor, patients should know that a good treatment plan will often include multiple visits, so it is helpful to consider a facility’s proximity and office hours.

Before deciding on a prosthetist or facility, patients should:

  • tour the facility, meet the staff and talk with the prosthetist
  • discuss possible treatment options and get a sense of how the prosthetist will approach their individual situation

How does the process of working with a prosthetist begin?

If a patient requires prosthetic services, a prosthetist works with the patient’s rehabilitation team (including his or her physician) to develop the best prosthetic plan of care and to make and fit the most appropriate device to address that patient’s unique goals. Once a recommendation is made, the prosthetist can begin developing the proper prosthesis.   

What are the first steps to getting a prosthetic device?

After receiving the appropriate prescription from the patient’s physician, the prosthetist measures or makes a mold of the patient’s residual limb in order to make a prosthetic socket (there are many ways to do this including plaster casts, computer digitization or measurements). The prosthetist also designs the prosthesis and selects its components, makes and fits the prosthesis, provides instruction on how to use and care for it, and also provides repairs and adjustments to it over time. Additionally, the prosthetist will track and communicate any progress or challenges with each patient’s healthcare team.

What if additional assistance is needed to wear the prosthesis?

When necessary, a prosthetist can help the patient locate other health professionals such as physical therapists or occupational therapists who may provide additional instruction and training on how to use the prosthesis or other assistive devices, as well as develop any necessary training or strengthening programs. A prosthetist can evaluate an individual's residual limb and existing prosthesis to recommend repairs, adjustments or replacement of the device. A prosthetist should also be a resource for patients trying to obtain products needed to wear and care for their prosthesis, including socks and liners. 

Can a prosthetist help with decisions related to having an amputation or a revision?

Yes. It is common for surgeons or others involved in the decision to amputate or revise a limb for prosthetic fitting to consult with a prosthetist concerning types of prostheses, limb length or other related issues. Prosthetists are allied health professionals and experts in designing and fitting prostheses. As such, they can offer valuable information, resources and advice to patients and their healthcare teams before a decision to amputate or revise a limb is made.

Do patients need a prescription from a physician to get a prosthesis?

Yes, patients are required to have a physician's prescription before a prosthesis can be made. However, prescriptions are not needed for initial evaluations.

What happens if a patient’s body size changes due to weight loss or weight gain?

If there is a change in condition: reduction of swelling, changes in post surgical swelling, weight change, additional surgery or any other changes, a reevaluation of the fit of the prosthesis is necessary. 

 

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