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What Are Prosthetics?

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12839

If you lose a hammer or saw, you can buy another one. What about losing an arm or leg? You can buy one of them, too! Artificial limbs have made great strides, so to speak, and will improve with time!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


How do you use tools to help you accomplish everyday tasks? Did you know there are tools people can wear to help them walk and move and live better?

Welcome to the first lesson in our Prosthetics series!

Tools help make daily life easier by providing assistance in a variety of ways.

Some tools, like a hammer, provide extra strength to complete a task. Prostheses, or artificial body parts, are medical tools that help people navigate and function in our world following the loss of function. A good example is a prosthetic leg that allows the patient to regain the ability to walk. Prosthetic limbs are a large segment of prostheses products.

prosthetic leg

Limb loss can occur due to required amputation following an accident, infection, or cancer. In addition, some infants are born without fully-formed limbs. In these situations, prosthetics can assist the individual with movement and daily activities.

Prosthetics attached to the lower part of the body assist the patient with walking and balance. There are many talented athletes who require prosthetics to compete. They have specialized prosthetics, like the one in the image below:


When an arm or hand is damaged, an upper-body prosthetic is designed. These products assist the patient with grasping, holding, and eating.

prosthetic arm

The history of prosthetic limbs goes back to the Egyptians, who fashioned early limbs out of fiber and wood products. The world's first prosthetic toe was found on an Egyptian mummy! You may have heard of peg legs on pirates? This is another early example of prosthetics to assist a patient following limb loss. Early artificial legs date to 300 BC, and have even been made of bronze and iron! During these early times, the only people who could afford prosthetics were the wealthy, and there was more emphasis on appearance than function.

In 1508, an iron hand was designed for a German mercenary who was able to physically manipulate the hand to improve function. The father of modern amputation and prosthetic design was a Frenchman named Ambroise Paré, who designed the basic structure of most lower-body prosthetics still used today. It allowed for movement in the knee and could be adjusted with harnesses. The design of prosthetics continued to evolve and improve, with less invasive amputation methods and more flexibility in the artificial limb.

Today, prosthetics are made of much lighter materials like carbon fiber, plastics, and silicon. These lightweight materials make it easy for the individual to move and function.

  • What would your life be like without a limb?
  • How might you need to adjust your daily activities?

Thankfully, prosthetics have come a long way from leather and wood! Today, you can be fitted for a custom artificial limb that fits your unique body and needs.

In the Got It? section, you will learn more about how prosthetics have changed over time.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.