Open Prosthetics (OP) is a web-based education and collaboration initiative of the Shared Design Alliance, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. We are dedicated to facilitating crowd-sourced curation of information and collaboration in the field of prosthetics and coping with missing body parts in general. OP was created and has been maintained with the hope of producing useful innovations, and of creating an environment conducive to the creation of such innovations: the "adjacent possible"
There are just over two million amputees or people with limb absence in the United States. Of these, fewer than five per cent or about 50,000 are missing at least all five fingers of the upper limb. This distribution is somewhat different among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, from which, as of 2007, there were 862 amputees, of whom 186 are missing arms (as of February 2009). This includes six bilateral upper extremity amputees (that number may be larger by a couple as of 2009). Obviously, there is some overlap, and these numbers refer to individuals, not to limbs. The dramatic difference in the numbers of upper and lower extremity amputees, along with the challenge of replacing a hand or arm as opposed to a foot or leg, conspire to make the prosthetic options for arms less appealing.
The art and science of attempting to replace a limb with a substitute has likely been around as long as limb loss or absence. The history of prosthetics has been somewhat documented, but we would like to start a group effort here. Broadly, prostheses can be divided into Upper Extremity (arms) and Lower Extremity (legs). Additional related areas include Anaplastology and Orthotics.
Upper and lower extremity prosthetic components are regulated by the FDA as Class I medical devices. Please contribute to this discussion on the issue.
Prosthetic components are distributed to patients as durable medical equipment, reimbursed by insurance companies and the federal government according to "L-codes." Please see this discussion of all of the business and insurance issues surrounding the provision of prosthetic services and devices. We are frequently contacted by people who are seeking prosthetic limbs for themselves, friends, or family members because they have reached their lifetime insurance cap, or are uninsured. Please consider adding a story about your specific experience and advice for obtaining a limb here.
Within these pages, we would like to give an overview of what types of prosthetic devices are available, give as much information as possible about them, including user reviews of pros and cons, including cost, and describe them with pictures where possible. We are also interested in documenting the challenges to getting good prosthetic care, including the variation in insurance coverage, and the small market in upper extremity prosthetics.
It's worth mentioning here what is NOT available. Fueled by science fiction and the fictionalization of science, prosthetic arms have been imagined as being capable of all kinds of things that they are not. Yet. We've created a round up of arms that would be great to have, if they existed. There are fantasy legs as well.
The representation of amputees and prosthetics in the media, in fiction and fantasy, is interesting and I think says a lot about how we think about amputation as a society. Take a look at this list of Representations of Amputation and Prosthetics in Popular Culture.