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Glossary: Terms used to talk about limb difference

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

A-Z glossary of words describing limb difference

Lots of different terms are used to talk about limb difference and other associated medical conditions, prosthetics, body parts and equipment. Some of the words listed may be familiar to you, and some of these may be unfamiliar or technical terms commonly used by medical professionals and clinicians.

We have created a list of some of the words you may come across when speaking about or researching limb differences. We hope that this will help provide some clarity and help create greater understanding around the subject.

Abduction Movement of a limb away from the body

Acheiria Congenital absence of one or both hands

Adduction Movement of a limb towards the body

Adyctyly Congenital absence of one or more fingers or toes

Amelia Absence of a limb

Amniotic band A fibrous string-like structure in the womb that can occasionally restrict blood flow and affect the baby’s development

Aphalangia Absent fingers or toes

Assistive device Tool or technology that promotes independence by enabling people to perform tasks that were previously impossible or difficult

Atrophy Wasting of tissues and muscles

Bilateral Affecting both sides (e.g. both arms)

Brachydactyly Short finger or thumb

Carpal bones The cluster of bones in the hand between the forearm (radius and ulna) and the metacarpals (long bones in the hand)

Check socket A temporary socket used for testing the fit of the prosthesis

Congenital limb deficiency / difference Absence of a limb or part of a limb at birth

Contra-lateral Relating to the opposite side

Contracture A shortening of muscle and/or tendons, often leading to a limb or body part bending in an unusual direction

Cosmetic cover The outside layer of a prosthesis to give it a realistic appearance

Digital amputation Amputation of toe or finger

Dysplasia Abnormal development of bones and soft tissues

Early childhood intervention Services that provide specialised support and services for infants and young children with developmental delay or disability

Ectrodactyly Partial or total absence of central fingers

Flexion The movement of a body segment into a more bent position (eg. bending the elbow is the same as flexing the elbow)

Extension The movement of a body segment into a more straight position (eg. straightening the knee is the same as extending the knee)

Hemimelia Absence of half a limb

Humerus Upper arm bone

Hypoplasia Under-development of bones and tissues

Lateral Outside aspect of leg and arm when body is in a normal position

Liner The sleeve that goes between the prosthetic socket and the limb

Medial Inside of the leg and arm when the body is in a normal position

Metacarpals A group of five long bones in the hand located between the carpal bones and the phalanges (finger bones)

Meromelia Partial absence of a limb

Milestones The theoretical stages of child development

Myoelectric prosthesis Uses the electrical signals from voluntarily contracted muscles in a person’s residual limb to control the movements of the prosthesis

Phalanges The long bones in the fingers and toes

Phantom pain The feeling of pain in an absent limb

Phantom sensation Awareness of the amputated limb

Polydactyly More than the normal number of fingers or thumbs

Pressure area Tender or broken skin caused by prolonged or excessive pressure

Prosthesis Artificial limb

Radius Long forearm bone on the thumb side

Residual limb The remaining part of the limb, sometimes referred to as a ‘stump’

Rigid dressing A hard protective cover or a cast applied soon after amputation to control swelling and protect the residual limb

Shoulder disarticulation Amputation through the shoulder joint

Shrinker A compression sock used to control swelling in the residual limb after amputation

Socket The custom made part of the prosthesis which encases the residual limb

Stump volume Size of the residual limb

Stump sock A sock worn over residual limb to provide a cushion between the skin and socket

Suspension Refers to how the prosthesis is held on

Symbrachydactyly Under-developed hand with central finger deficiencies

Symphalangia Stiff fingers or thumb from fusion of bones

Syndactyly Webbed fingers or thumb

Synostosi Bone fusion

Terminal device The attachment on the end of an upper limb prosthesis (eg. hooks, hands, specialized tools)

Transhumeral amputation Amputation above the elbow through the humerus

Transmetacarpal amputation Amputation through the metacarpal bones

Transradial amputation Amputation below elbow through the bones of the radius and ulna (the bones between the elbow and wrist – the forearm)

Ulna Long forearm bone on the little finger side

Unilateral Affecting one side

Weight transference Moving weight from one side to the other

Wrist disarticulation Amputation through the wrist joint

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