A prosthetist or orthotist is a health care worker who assists patients who have disabilities resulting in either partial or complete absence of a limb, or a severe impairment requiring a prosthetic or orthotic device. These disabilities may occur due to injury, or the patient may have suffered from a disabling disease or birth defect. A prosthesis is an artificial device that takes the place of a missing limb, returning mobility a patient lost from impairment. An orthotic is a device, such as a brace, that supports and strengthens an impaired limb.
A prosthetist first meets with patients to assess their individual needs. They will check each patient's muscle development, range of motion, joint stability, and overall condition of skin and health of the area where the prosthetic device will be attached. This helps to determine the best design and materials to use for creating a custom device for each individual patient. A custom design is necessary to ensure the most comfort, strength, and support for each specific case.
Prosthetists must take very accurate, very detailed measurements and impressions. They draft templates of their designs, then continue to fit and measure a patient as the device takes shape. The prosthetist builds and assembles each prosthetic, then works with the patient to make needed adjustments. When the device is completed, the prosthetist will then use splints or any needed compression devices to prepare the areas of attachment. The prosthetist must provide detailed instructions on operating the prosthesis, then the patient and prosthetist work together to create a care plan.
The job is not finished when the device is finally completed and working, however. Patients must continue to meet with the prosthetist for an ongoing period of time while they learn to use the prosthesis and work with the prosthetist to make adjustments and modifications as their gait improves or their muscles become stronger and movements change. The time between the initial meeting and full function may be lengthy, but it is very rewarding for both the patient and the prosthetist.
Advanced technology has made the prosthetic and orthotic professions an exiting and ever-expanding world of opportunity. Myoelectric joints and computer imaging are two of the advances researchers continue to explore. A myoelectric prosthesis uses electromyography (EMG) to allow a patient's muscles to send signals to the prosthetic device. This enables increased control and movement and as technology advances, so does the prosthetist's ability to give a patient the best range of motion and mobility possible.