• ExpHand Prosthetics

Glossary: Terms used to talk about limb difference

Updated: Aug 20



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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