Types of Prosthetics

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12840

Remember those pictures of pirates with the peg leg and the eye patch? Modern medicine could provide them with artificial eyes and working legs! Discover the custom-made types of prosthetic devices!


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 choose which pair of shoes or sneakers you will buy? How would you choose which leg to buy? Sound strange? Read on!

The type of shoe you choose to wear each morning depends on several factors: the weather, your activities that day, and even your clothing choice.

While a person who has experienced limb loss is not able to change out their prosthetic limb daily, these limbs are designed and built based on the goals of the patient. Much like a favorite pair of shoes, an artificial limb must be able to serve many purposes.

If you missed, or need to review, the first Related Lesson in our Prosthetics series, you can find it in the right-hand sidebar.

doctor helping man in wheelchair with prosthetic leg

Not all prostheses are limb-based; you may have noticed individuals with glass eyes. An artificial body part used for bodily appearance and not for function is called a "cosmesis." This means they are worn for physical appearance and do not have effective function. In contrast, prostheses, such as artificial legs, are designed for utility, not appearance.

The highest number of prosthetics are designed to address limb loss. The design of these artificial limbs depends on the extent of the injury and required amputation. There are two types of prosthetic legs: above-the-knee and below-the-knee.

above the knee prosthetic leg

Above-the-knee prosthetics attach to part of the thigh and include a knee joint for movement. That joint allows for the natural movement of the leg during walking.

Below-the-knee prosthetics attach below the knee and have a fixed foot attachment.

below the knee prosthetic leg

These artificial legs are used for movement, and are designed to improve mobility instead of simply improve physical appearance. Today, there are even specially-designed prosthetic legs made to absorb shock and thrust a runner forward, allowing athletes to compete in different sports.

man running with prosthetic legs

Artificial arms are divided based on the placement of the elbow. Above-elbow prosthetics attach to the upper arm or shoulder and can include a moveable elbow.

prosthetic arm with moveable elbow

Below-elbow prosthetics provide a forearm and some kind of hand attachment. There is a variety of hand designs based on the requirements of the patients. Some are designed to grasp, while others just provide a hook.

below the elbow prosthetic arm

Each of these prostheses helps the patient regain life activities. However, they can be heavy and hard to maneuver. Current designs and materials focus on improving function and quality, using lighter materials like carbon fiber or plastic. It is extremely important that prosthetics are durable, because they are used every day! Many have foam padding for comfort at the attachment point that reduces stress and pressure on the body.

Patients work with a prosthetist, a medical specialist, to determine which prosthetic is right for their needs.

  • What daily activities would you need to complete if you lost a limb?
  • Why might the weight of the prosthetic matter?

Limbs make up a percentage of your body weight, so it is important that they are not excessively heavy because it might impact your balance. The type of injury and amputation surgery required determines how extensive the artificial limb needs to be. Above-the-knee or elbow prosthetics do provide joint movement, while below-the-knee or elbow prosthetics have fixed hands or feet. Most prostheses improve the ability to complete daily tasks.

In the Got It? section, you will learn more about prosthetic hand designs and how they vary based on need and function.

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