While Excel helps individuals who are in need of both prosthetics and orthotics and our doctors can tell you at a glance which one a patient might need; to the general public, the difference may not be as clear. A major part of our job is to educate patients, therapists, local doctors, and the public on the different functions and designs for each of these types of devices and what is needed to build them.

Let’s Start With the Definitions

Prosthetics is likely what most typically appears in your mind when you think of what we produce. A prosthesis is an artificially made limb or part of the body that is used to replace a part of the body that is missing either due to amputation or lack of development. These devices make it possible for individuals to regain function in place of their missing limb. The most apparent example would be a prosthetic leg for an amputee.

An orthosis is a device used to correct, accommodate, or enhance the use of a body part. A body part may not necessarily be removed from the body as a whole but has lost its function. Orthotics are most typically used for individuals who have difficulties with functioning arms or legs due to deficiencies or deformities. For example, a spinal orthosis would help someone with a degrading spine due to scoliosis – almost like a back brace.

How They’re Made

The initial steps to the process of making prosthetic and orthotic devices are very similar. We must start with a casting of the part of the body that needs support or replacing. In the case of a missing limb, we cast the affected limb to come as close to a replication as possible. This is known as a “negative impression” of the body part that will later be used to build a positive mold that will serve as the guide for the prosthetic device. From this point, the process changes depending on the device needs.

The design of the device is based on many factors such as function and activity level. There is not a “one size fits all” model, and patients needs and goals must be taken into account. An active patient that is around water will have a very different device from a patient who has more restricted ambulation. The prosthetist, doctor, therapist and other healthcare professionals will work together as a team to help decide which design is best for each patient.

For a prosthetic device, this positive cast will actually serve as the basis of the device. Until recently, we would hand mold and sculpt the prosthetic device. These days, we utilize software called Canfit that allows us to design and craft a custom prosthetic in less than 30 minutes! We are able to scan the negative space in the cast to get the exact measurements and shape of the limb to replicate. From there, the machine carves the material to create an exact replica.

From there, all the bells and whistle are added. Patients can even choose the exterior fabric to match their personality if they like! While there are some variations to this process depending on the needs of the individual, that basically sums up the difference between the prosthetic and orthotic devices we work so hard to provide to our patients. If you find yourself or your loved one in need of assistance with one of our devices, please feel free to reach out with any additional questions. We look forward to restoring your quality of life.