June 6, 2023
Eddie Zepeda

What Medical Terms Should New Amputees Know?

Eddie Zepeda
Eddie Zepeda

Those who have recently undergone an amputation know that medical terms can be confusing and intimidating.

As the cliche goes, "Knowledge is power." The more you understand your prognosis and prescribed care, the better you'll be able to communicate throughout your rehabilitation.

As a custom prosthetic provider in Albuquerque & Las Cruces, we strive to offer our patients the best possible care, which starts with understanding prosthesis medical terminology.

Define Prosthesis Medical Terminology

Prosthetic body parts and orthotic devices are used in rehabilitation, helping people to lead a more independent life performing normal activities or to supplement residual functions.

An artificial replacement can be body-powered using attached cables and harnesses, responsive to electrical signals, or passive with limited joint movement.

Prosthetics come in various forms, from simple replacements for limbs to sophisticated electronic devices that replace organ functions.

No matter the type of prosthesis, they are invaluable tools to help those with physical disabilities to lead a life of independence and dignity.

Before we get to our glossary of prosthetic terms, let's first discuss the difference between orthotics and prosthetics:

  • Orthotic device  — used to support, align, prevent, or correct a deformity or improper function of the body. For example, a shoe insert, brace, or splint.
  • Prosthetic device — an artificial body part designed to replace or supplement a natural body part. For instance, a prosthetic foot, artificial limb, hearing aid, pacemaker, and cochlear implant. Artificial limbs are called prostheses.

Then, there is the difference between a prosthetist and an orthotist:

  • The medical definition of a prosthetist: A prosthetist is a health professional specializing in creating and fitting prostheses (artificial limbs) for patients who have lost a limb or part of a limb.
  • The medical definition of an orthotist: An orthotist specializes in creating and fitting orthotic devices such as braces and splints.
medical term for amputated limb

Now, let's define common limb and arm amputee terms:

— Ambulation

Ambulation is the medical term for walking. It is often used to refer to the act of a person walking independently without external assistance.

— Amputation

A medical term for an amputated limb is called an amputation. This surgery is typically used for medical reasons, such as infection or severe trauma.

Did you know the politically correct term for the amputee is, in fact, "amputee?"

— Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO)

An AFO prosthesis is a custom-made, non-surgical device designed to support the foot and ankle joints. It is generally used to provide structural support, correct deformities, reduce pain, improve balance and stability, and/or reduce the risk of falls.

— Above-Knee Amputation (AKA)

Above-knee amputation is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of a leg from the lower thigh down to the mid-thigh area. The remaining stump is left to heal, after which a limb and knee prosthesis are fitted.

— Below-Knee Amputation (BKA)

A below-knee amputation is a surgical procedure in which a person's leg below the knee cap is removed due to severe trauma, irreparably fractured bone, infection, or an uncontrolled medical condition. Depending on the individual's health and specific physical needs, an artificial limb or prosthesis may be prescribed.

— Comorbidity

Comorbidity might refer to a medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease that may have been a factor in the patient requiring amputation of a limb or a complication of the amputee's recovery, such as muscular atrophy or non-healing wounds.

— Compression Garments

Compression garments for amputees are designed to help minimize pain, swelling, and phantom limb sensations. They can also reduce the potential for skin irritation or breakdown. These garments are typically made with a combination of materials, such as breathable knits, latex, neoprene, and elastane, to create a snug fit.

— Congenital Limb Loss

Congenital limb loss is the loss of one or more limbs at birth due to genetic abnormalities, vascular disruption, maternal drug use, or environmental factors.

— Disarticulation

​​Disarticulation is separating the prosthetic limb from the user's body. Disarticulation can be necessary when designing and customizing prosthetic devices to give patients better use of their artificial body parts.

— K-Levels

K-Levels describe the level of functionality of a prosthetic device. They are defined by the Amputee Coalition of America and developed by clinicians over the last two decades. Each level describes the device's ability to provide functional tasks such as grasping, standing, walking, etc. The most common prosthetic k-levels are 1 (the simplest) through 5 (the most complex and advanced).

— Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis (KAFO)

A KAFO prosthetic supports the knee, ankle, and foot joints, allowing users to move more easily and efficiently. It is usually made of a lightweight frame made from metal and plastic components. The frame fits securely around the thigh, shin bone, and foot and can be adjusted as needed for the individual using the device.

— Lower Extremity (LE) Prosthetic

Lower extremity prosthetics replace a portion of the lower body, such as the hip, knee, ankle, foot, or a combination thereof. These prostheses allow individuals to walk, run, and sometimes jump again.

— Orthotics

Orthotics support, align, prevent, or correct the function of movable body parts. Custom orthoses are made from metal, plastic, and rubber. Examples include shoe inserts, braces, splints, and certain types of supports.

— Partial Foot

A partial foot prosthetic replaces a portion of the foot, from the toes up to the ankle, to provide support and stability while walking or engaging in other activities. It is typically made of lightweight materials such as carbon fiber and customized to a user's needs.

— Prosthetic Knee Socket

A prosthetic socket is a custom-made interface between a prosthetic limb and the amputee's residual limb. A prosthetic socket is designed to cushion and protect the residual limb, spread the contact pressures evenly, and maximize the patient's comfort and proprioception (sense of limb position).

— Residual Limb

A residual limb is the remaining portion of an amputated body part, such as an arm, leg, hand, or foot. It is called a "residual" limb because it is considered the "remaining" part of the body.

— Stump Shrinker

A stump shrinker reduces the circumference and eases the healing process of a fresh amputation stump. It is made of a strong, flexible, elastic material placed over the amputation stump to keep it compressed and reduce swelling. The medical term for amputee stump is a "residuum."

— Transhumeral

A transhumeral prosthetic replaces the entire arm above the elbow in individuals who have had an amputation or are born without an arm. It typically consists of an artificial socket, a mechanical elbow joint, and a terminal device, such as a hook or pincer grip, for performing functional tasks.

— Transradial  

A transradial prosthetic fits on the upper arm in place of a missing forearm. It consists of a socket that holds the amputee's residual limb, an elbow joint, and an artificial hand.

prosthesis medical terminology

— Upper Extremity (UE)  

An upper extremity prosthetic replaces missing upper limb structures such as a hand, arm, shoulder, elbow, or wrist. Depending on the wearer's needs, certain upper extremity prosthetics may also be fitted with electronic components that allow for more complex movement and increased dexterity.

— A Prosthetic vs. Prosthesis

Prosthetics refers to the field of research and expertise in designing and building artificial limbs. For example, a knee prosthesis, a hearing aid, and a pacemaker. On the other hand, the word "prosthesis" refers to the device used to replace a missing body part.

Need Help with Orthotic or Prosthetic Devices?

Amputees can take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of resources and support groups to help them adjust to a new way of life. You can make the best choice for your rehabilitation journey as long as you have an open dialogue with your physician and prosthetist.

At PrimeCare, we specialize in designing and creating prosthetics custom-crafted to fit an individual's lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. Our innovative prosthetic solutions are the ideal choice for patients seeking high-quality and reliable prosthetics.

Contact us to get more information from definitive prosthesis experts.


No items found.

Request an Evaluation

If you have questions or you are ready to talk about prosthetic options, feel free to schedule a consultation at our clinic.

A grandfather with a prosthesis walks with his grandchildren.