Medical Orthotist Prosthetists design and make artificial limbs (prosthetics) and surgical appliances such as splints, braces and surgical shoes (orthotics).
These specialists work in a team with the surgeon, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and nursing staff. They also deal directly with patients. After the surgeon has diagnosed the problem the patient is experiencing, steps are taken to overcome or diminish the physical disability.
Surgeons send orthotist prosthetists prescriptions, which sets out the treatment patients are to receive. The orthotist prosthetist and surgeon may discuss the prescription and the technology available to treat the patient.
Patients are measured to ensure that the new appliance or limb will fit perfectly. The orthotist prosthetist then designs and manufactures an orthosis prosthesis suitable for the individual. Casts are made of the applicable part of the patient’s anatomy and the appliance or limb is constructed, using the cast as a point of measurement throughout the process.
Orthotist prosthetists construct appliances and limbs from a variety of materials, using a number of processes including sawing, drilling, riveting and moulding molten plastic. Pigments are mixed to match skin colour and this is applied to the artificial limbs. Limbs are then tested for freedom of movement and other functional efficiency.
Finally the finished product is measured and modified on the patient until the patient is satisfied. Orthotist prosthetists also spend some time with patients providing instruction on the proper use of the new appliances or limbs.
Orthotist prosthetists mainly specialise in one of the following areas:
Medical orthotics: An orthosis assists or takes over the function of a joint or part of the human anatomy that is either deformed or does not function correctly. This can encompass the entire system such as the hands, shoulders, hips and knees.
Medical prosthesis: A prosthesis replaces a part of the body missing due to birth, accident or disease. Generally the predominant parts affected are the legs, although a prosthesis may be made to replace missing arms, hands etc.
Medical footwear: Footwear may be made to provide support for normal feet, to help defects such as a clubfoot or to compensate for deviations where one le.g. is longer than the other.
The materials used by the orthotist prosthetist have changed rapidly over the past few years. Appliances once made from steel and leather are replaced by plastics and materials such as carbon fibres and acrylic resin which make it possible to manufacture lighter, more functional and aesthetically pleasing orthotic / prostheses. The technological advancement made in electronics makes it possible for orthotist prosthetists to manufacture prostheses that function electronically, for example artificial hands.