Artificial limb (prosthesis)

Following an amputation for bone cancer, most people are fitted with an artificial limb called a prosthesis.

About artificial limbs

Sometimes treatment for primary bone cancer or soft tissue sarcoma involves an operation to remove all or part of a limb. This type of surgery is called an amputation.

After an amputation, most people can be fitted with an artificial limb called a prosthesis. Modern technology means artificial limbs are now very effective. They let people do many of the things they did before the amputation. Because the arm and the hand do lots of different things, prosthetic arms are less technically advanced than legs.

Some artificial limbs are designed to look like the limb they are replacing, but do not move. These are often called passive limbs. They are usually only for upper limbs.

Other artificial limbs are designed to allow a wide range of everyday activities, such as gripping, walking, running and playing sport. These types of limb may look very different from the limb they are replacing. Or they may be designed to look as similar as possible. Depending on your needs, you may have more than one type of artificial limb.

Having an artificial limb will use more of your energy. They might not be suitable for people who are frail or have other health conditions like heart disease.

Having a prosthesis fitted

After your operation, you will be referred to a prosthetic rehabilitation or limb-fitting unit. The team in the unit will show you the different types of prosthesis and how they work. They will talk to you about your needs and help you choose the best type of prosthesis for you.

When you are ready to have a prosthesis made, a specialist called a prosthetist will take careful measurements or a plaster cast of your limb. They will then make a mould of your limb. This will be used to create a custom-built socket that fits over your limb. The prosthesis is attached to the socket.

It can take a few weeks for your artificial limb to be made. To make sure it fits comfortably, you may need a few fitting appointments. It is important to give the prosthetist feedback on how well the artificial limb fits and works.

If it is a leg prosthesis, you will have specialist physiotherapy for a few months to learn how to use it. If it is an arm prosthesis, you will have occupational therapy to learn how to use it. You will need to feel well enough to cope with prosthetic rehabilitation. If you are having more treatment after surgery, limb-fitting and rehabilitation may be delayed until you recover.

You will have regular appointments at the limb-fitting unit for the rest of your life. The team in the unit will maintain your prosthesis and check it is still fitting and working properly.