What is an Arm Prosthetic?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An arm prosthetic is a replacement for a missing arm. Arm prosthetics come in a range of styles and designs which can be customized for specific needs, with fitting of a prosthesis often being considered an important part of the recovery process for people with limbs which have been amputated. In addition to replacing a limb lost due to trauma, an arm prosthetic can also be used to replace a limb missing as a result of a congenital abnormality, or to supplement a severely disabled or deformed arm.


This upper body prosthetic device may be designed for someone who has lost a hand, an arm below the elbow, or an arm above the elbow. The goal of an arm prosthetic is to create some functionality for the patient, allowing him or her to use the terminal device on the prosthetic like one would use a hand. Arm prosthetics are also used for aesthetic reasons, for people who are concerned about how they look with a missing arm.

In the case of an amputation, the surgeon may consider potential prosthetic devices when performing the surgery, amputating at a location which is optimal for the fitting of a prosthetic as long as this does not interfere with the patient's care. The surgical site must be allowed to heal before fitting can begin, to prevent damage, and fitting can be a lengthy process.

Fitting an arm prosthetic usually starts with a patient interview. The patient is measured and notes are taken about the location of the amputation and any specific issues, and a cast of the stump of the arm may be taken. The patient is also encouraged to talk about goals so that an appropriate prosthetic can be selected. An aesthetic, non-functional prosthetic, for example, tends to be easier to fit than one which needs to be functional.

Functional prosthetics can be controlled in a number of ways, including with the use of cables and tiny electric motors which can move the limb in response to muscle movements made by the patient. Patients also need to consider methods of attachment before fitting a prosthetic, as they can choose between options like suction sockets and harnesses. Once the needs of the patient are identified, a prosthetic can be prepared, and the patient can try it on. If it fits, adjustments can be made for optimum comfort, and the patient can be taught how to take the device on and off, and how to use it.

Learning to use a prosthetic device can take time. The movements used to control an arm prosthetic are sometimes difficult to learn and refine, and patients may struggle with tasks like gripping things and manipulating objects. Patients often learn to use an arm prosthetic under the direction of a physical therapist.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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