The decision to wear a prosthetic arm is up to each individual. Everyone's body, lifestyle and interests are unique to them, and so the needs of their prosthetic varies by just as much.
If you're thinking about getting a prosthetic for you or your child, it's important to ask questions like ‘how do prosthetic arms work?’ and ‘how will this prosthetic fit into my everyday life?’. You should be sure to consider all the options available to you - especially because there are more options than ever before!
Benefits of wearing a prosthetic
It’s important to know how prosthetic arms work, in order to understand how they can fit into your daily life. Different types of prosthetics have their strengths and weaknesses. Which design of prosthetic you choose will depend on the activities you need it for. As an example, a modern bionic arm offers more intuitive control and movement, but the internal electronics aren't as hard wearing as a body powered device would be
Prosthetic technology is constantly improving, but these trade-offs between designs are still a key thing to consider. If you like physical activity like sports or bike riding, the style of prosthetics that can fit your needs will be very different to someone who wants the accuracy necessary to play a musical instrument. Thinking about prosthetics as tools, means to an end, may make it easier to figure out what type of prosthetic arm would be the best fit for you.
Myoelectric devices work using electrode sensors in the socket, which detect electrical signals generated by muscles in the residual limb. This is great for finer motor control, but this connection can be easily interrupted during regular activity, let alone during high-intensity sports. Likewise, a body powered prosthetic arm can be essential if you're working in wet or rugged environments.
If you want some more information about the different types of prosthetics and how they work, check out the FAQ section of our website here.
Do prosthetic arms work for everyone?
There is a large proportion of prosthetic users who abandon their device. In adults the prosthetic rejection rate is around 25%, while in children this rises to 40% on average. Especially when considering how expensive prosthetics can be, this is a worrying figure (though thankfully, if you're in the UK, the NHS is making this option increasingly available).
Reasons for no longer wearing a prosthetic device vary. One of the most common reasons is comfort or weight. Earlier we talked about centre of mass and how a prosthetic's weight can help with balance, but this can be as much a challenge as it is a benefit. Even when a prosthetic is lighter than its biological counterpart, it can often feel disproportionately heavy because it's a weight you're not used to carrying.
Another reason people have for abandoning their prosthetic is a lack of function. The technology in prosthetic arms - in myoelectric devices in particular - is a long way from where it was even 20 years ago. Many people wear prosthetic arms and find them good enough to be useful, but there is still a gap to close between modern examples and biological arms. Hopefully innovation in prosthetic design will make this reason less common over time.
As with many other things, children can learn to use a prosthetic much faster than an adult. It's important for children to try out a prosthetic and see if it's the right fit for them. By giving children the opportunity to practise using a prosthetic and develop muscle groups on that side of their body, it will be easier for them to find the right prosthetic fit for them when they're older.
Some kids find prosthetics, particularly myoelectric models, uncomfortable and unwieldy. They're also very expensive to replace as they outgrow these devices incredibly quickly. This doesn't mean you should write them off, but it may be better to look to other prosthetic options first, to see if your child sees benefit in a prosthesis at all.
How well do prosthetic arms work for those that use them?
While some amputees don't use a prosthetic, many find them invaluable in their daily lives. On top of the tasks an individual wants their prosthetic for, what kind of limb difference they have can affect how useful a prosthetic arm is. Generally speaking, a prosthetic that can be fitted below the elbow will be easier to use, as the wrist is the only joint beyond the hand to contend with.
Scientists are continually working to manufacture better prosthetics that are more useful to more people. Prosthetic arms are much more lightweight than they used to be, and 3D printed projects like ExpHand make fitting prosthetics easier than ever before. There is also ongoing research into bionics which, while they involve surgical procedures, make controlling the arm easier and more consistent.
Throughout the life of you or your child, prosthetic technology is only going to improve, and the support offered by prosthetic companies is better than ever before.
Not every type of prosthetic will work for everybody, but by considering your options carefully (and more than likely a little trial and error), we hope you can find a prosthetic arm that's the right fit for you.
If you'd like more information about how ExpHand is changing the world of children's prosthetics you can read more about us here, or if you have questions not covered by our FAQs you can get in touch here - we'd love to hear from you!