Exploring Different Types of Prosthetics: From Basic to Bionic

Whether you’re interested in a simple prosthetic or a more complex bionic prosthetic, there’s an option available that is the perfect fit for you. With benefits that include improving appearance, increasing mobility, and improving safety, prosthetics have come a long way to mimic natural mobility and functionality and ensure that the loss of a limb doesn’t limit what you can accomplish. 

Prosthetic leg

What Is a Prosthetic?

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the different types of prosthetics, let’s first discuss what a prosthetic is and the kind of person who may benefit from it.

A prosthetic is an artificial body part that restores appearance and/or function to the user—the complexity of the prosthetic will determine if it is solely to restore appearance or if it will provide function to the user as well.

Prosthetics benefit those who have lost a limb, whether because of an accident, cancer treatment, diabetes, severe infection, or any other instance causing the loss of a limb.

A prosthetic should not be confused with an orthotic. An orthotic only supports a limb or body part, whereas a prosthetic replaces it. For example, an artificial arm is a prosthetic, while a wrist splint is an orthotic.

Within the realm of prosthetics are different types regarding the appendage they replace. There are four categories: transfemoral, transradial, transhumeral, and transtibial.

­Transhumeral – an artificial arm that attaches between the shoulder and elbow

Transradial – an artificial arm that attaches below the elbow

Transfemoral – an artificial leg that attaches between the hip and knee

Transtibial – an artificial leg that attaches below the knee

As expected, the more joints encompassed by a prosthetic, the more complex the prosthetic must be. Furthermore, prosthetics for the legs must also be able to handle your body’s weight, adding an extra level of complexity to their design and mechanics.


Types of Prosthetics

Now that we know the different areas of the body that prosthetics can cover and how they are categorized in that distinction, let’s look at the varying complexities of prosthetics and the different roles they can play, starting from the basic models and progressing to the most complex.

Fixed Positioning Prosthetics

Among the most basic prosthetics, whose purpose is to restore appearance, are those with fixed positioning that do not move. This can include a fixed ankle/foot position or a fixed hand/wrist.


These prosthetics may also be termed cosmetic prostheses as they are designed to look realistic but have limited function or are entirely non-functional.

These prosthetics are best for those who are not very active, or don’t plan on using a prosthetic most of the time.

Simple Locked- Knee Joint Mechanisms

A step up from cosmetic prostheses are those that offer some very basic movement in the joints. This is often in the form of a simple locking mechanism. For example, an artificial leg prosthetic may contain a knee joint that can be unlocked for sitting, but locked when the user needs to place weight on the prosthetic, like when walking or standing.

The benefit of these prosthetics is that they are more simplistic.  However, with the locked positioning, the user must still adjust their gait to match the prosthesis, so the device does not allow them to follow a natural gait. Gait just refers to the way a person walks. 

Some locked-joint mechanisms require the user to lock and unlock it manually, whereas others will lock when the weight is on the leg and unlock when the weight is removed. This allows the leg to swing forward while walking but locks when weight is placed on it, increasing security.

Multi-Axial Movement Ankle Joints

As prosthetics become more complex, they allow for movement in multiple directions, making it easier for users to accomplish tasks such as walking on uneven ground. Instead of just one walking position, these prosthetics can move and rotate in multiple directions to keep the prosthetic steady regardless of terrain.

Body-Powered Prosthetics for Upper Limb Prosthetics

Body-powered prosthetics often use a series of systems, such as a cable and harness system. With these systems, completing a particular movement influences how the system works. For example, an upper arm body-powered prosthetic may require you to perform a certain shoulder movement on the opposite side to open or close a hook and move the prosthetic.

Bionic Prostheses

When it comes to complex prostheses, nothing tops the bionic models. These prosthetics contain computer or microprocessor-controlled components, which accomplish more than the standard prosthetics can, even those that allow for some degree of movement.

Bionic Arm Prosthetic

On top of increased mobility, bionic prosthetics also improve the safety and functionality of the prosthetic.

For those with a lower limb prosthetic, microprocessor knees can use sensor systems to help mimic a natural walking pattern, no matter your speed or the slope that you are walking on. The sensors detect movement, including the angle of the path, and adjust resistance in the joint mechanisms to offer the mobility and safety you need. Microprocessor ankles also accomplish this, again resulting in a more natural gait.

Beyond the cosmetic appeal of a natural gait, it also makes it less painful to use your prosthetic long-term since your body does not endure the stress of an unnatural gait. With other prosthetics, especially those offering minimal movement, your body has to compensate for the unnatural walking pattern, which can lead to pain over time. Thus, bionics allow you to keep up with your lifestyle without suffering from excessive pain.

There are also functional benefits offered through bionics for upper limb prosthetics. Using sensors in the prosthetic’s socket, some models can detect and process electrical signals sent from muscle activity in the residual limb, using these signals to control the prosthetic’s movement. This then removes the need for a harness and shoulder movements. This allows the prosthetic to move in a very natural way and without additional effort from the user. Furthermore, it offers you more control in your movement, more closely mimicking what you can achieve with your natural appendage.

Bionic limbs are constantly compiling data on your movement and timing, which the limb interprets to make necessary adjustments. The result is a prosthetic that moves like it is naturally a part of your body.

Not only that, but bionic prosthetics offer a distinct advantage in terms of safety––they can detect stumbles in real-time. When a stumble is detected, the bionic limb immediately adjusts its stiffness to help the user catch themselves and avoid a fall.

Those who most benefit from these advanced prosthetics include those with a moderate to active lifestyle. However, it is essential to remember that these limbs require battery monitoring and charging, so the user must stay on top of that to see the greatest benefit from these devices.

legprosthetic lawall

How Your Prosthetist Can Help

As you can see, there are many options available for those interested in a prosthetic, but having this many options can also be overwhelming. What type of prosthetic do you need, and what complexity would best fit your lifestyle and budget?

If you’re unsure of what prosthetic best fits you, a prosthetist can help. Taking in information about your lifestyle, hobbies, activity levels, and budget, a prosthetist can match you with the best possible prosthetic. They work with you individually to find a solution that will improve your mobility.

Our team of prosthetists at Lawall Orthotics and Prosthetics is committed to matching you with the best prosthetic based on your needs. Call us today to schedule a consultation where we can answer any and all questions you have about prosthetics.