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The 411 on Temporary Prosthesis 

Greg Bauer


A ‘temporary’ prosthesis is more formally referred to as an initial prosthesis, or preparatory.  It is often called a temporary prosthesis, or ‘temp’, because the prosthetic user will typically only use this prosthesis for three to nine months.  Of course, that time frame is only a guideline and depends on many factors, including the user’s unique physiology and activity level.

 

The temporary prosthetic limb usually includes more basic knee and foot components.  As the amputee gradually increases in activity level, higher functioning components may be required.  During this phase of prosthetic rehabilitation, the amputee will go through an extraordinary transformation.  Following amputation the residual limb, or stump, is typically very swollen.  As the amputee is re-introduced to the act of walking, called ambulation, the residual limb will reduce in volume, bones will shift, and muscles will atrophy.  Because of these extreme anatomical changes, a temporary prosthetic user will need frequent prosthetic adjustments.  The prosthetist will need to have easy access to the inner components of the prosthesis, which is why temporary prostheses are not cosmetically finished.  Medicare will actually deny coverage for a foam cover on a temporary prosthesis.  However, some amputees are emotionally unwilling to use a prosthesis that is not cosmetically finished.  In these cases, the amputee may want to make the personal financial investment in a removable foam cover.  A removable foam cover only involves the calf section and has a seam up the back that is closed via Velcro.   

 

Adding prosthetic socks to the temporary socket fit can accommodate some of the volume loss.  Prosthetic socks are available in a number of lengths and thicknesses and several socks can be utilized at one time.  However, at a certain point adding sock ply is ineffective and further socket adjustments are required.  A temporary prosthetic socket is usually not laminated with carbon fiber because, unlike plastic, carbon fiber cannot be heated and modified.  Once the volume loss is significant enough, the amputee will feel as if the residual limb is ‘crashing’ down into the bottom of the socket.  At this point, the residual limb has usually stabilized somewhat in volume and shape and a definitive prosthesis may be recommended.  The definitive prosthesis is sometimes referred to as the ‘permanent’ prosthesis.  The term ‘permanent prosthesis’ is actually a misnomer since the replacement time frame for all prostheses is usually two to five years.  The definitive prosthesis will be fabricated using a new mold of the residual limb, may include a different suspension system (how the prosthesis is held onto the residual limb), and may include higher activity prosthetic components.  If the user desires, the definitive prosthesis can be cosmetically finished with a foam cover and protective skin.  The outer frame of the socket may be fabricated using carbon fiber material, as less frequent adjustments are usually required during this phase.

 

Some users are able to utilize the previous temporary prosthesis, assuming it can be modified to be somewhat usable, as a back-up.  Sometimes components of the temporary prosthesis can be incorporated into a ‘water leg’ or ‘shower prosthesis’.

 

While using a temporary prosthetic limb, regular visits with the prosthetist is crucial to a successful prosthetic rehabilitation.  Intensive physical therapy, whether on an in-patient or out-patient basis, is very beneficial during this stage of rehabilitation.    

 



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