Limb difference terminology

Terminology


If you are the parent or carer of a child with limb difference you will enter a world that uses an array of unique words and terms.  While some words may be familiar to you, many of the others used by medical professionals, clinicians and service providers can seem unfamiliar and new.  Often the terms relate to medical conditions, body parts, prosthetics, aids and equipment.



At times you might find that the terminology used by professionals can seem cold, clinical or unpleasant.  However, professionals use these words because it is the most accurate way to describe your child's individual circumstances of his or her medical care.  The words professionals use may be unfamiliar to you, but remember that the terminology used are understood by the medical team.  If you are not comfortable with the words that professionals use then politely let them know and always ask questions if they use terms that you do not understand.

It might also be confronting when someone else (who is not a medical or health professional) uses words to describe your child that you consider to be incorrect, inappropriate or unpleasant.  Often others don't always know which words and descriptions you and your child are comfortable with - they are often doing their best to communicate effectively with you.  Gently correct them and help them to understand.

At times a child or young person with limb difference is described as being an 'amputee', a term commonly used in the medical sector to describe anyone with a limb difference.  You might feel uncomfortable that your child is being referred to as an amputee as this doesn't accurately describe your child and it might not seem appropriate to use a single term to describe all people with a limb difference.  If you are uncomfortable with your child being referred to as an amputee please let people know what your preferred term is.

The following table lists some of the common limb difference terminology used.

Abduction
Movement of a limb away from the body
Acheiria
Congenital absence of one or both hands
Adduction
Movement of a limb towards the body
Adyctyly
Congenital absence of one or more fingers or toes
Alignment
Position of prosthetic socket in relation to foot and knee
Amelia
Absence of a limb
Amniotic band
A fibrous string-like structure in the womb that can occasionally restrict blood flow and affect the baby's development
Ankle disarticulation Ankle disarticulation amputation through the ankle joint (historically called a Symes amputation)
Aphalangia
Absent fingers or toes
Aplasia
Absence of specific bones and parts
Arthrogryposis
Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenital is a rare condition characterized by contracture of the joints
Assistive device
Tool or technology that promotes independence by enabling people to perform tasks that were previously impossible or difficult
Atrophy
Wasting of tissues and muscles
Bilateral
Affecting both sides (eg.  both legs)
Brachydactyly
Short finger or thumb
Cadence
Number of steps walked in one minute
Camptodactyly
When fingers are bent or cannot fully straighten
Carpal bones
The cluster of bones in the hand between the forearm (radius and ulna) and the metacarpals (long bones in the hand)
Check socket
A temporary socket used for testing the fit of the prosthesis
Clinodactyly
Curvature of finger or thumb towards the adjacent fingers
Congenital limb deficiency / difference
Absence of a limb or part of a limb at the time of birth
Contra-lateral
Relating to the opposite side
Contracture
A shortening of muscle and/or tendons, often leading to a limb or body part bending in an unusual direction
Cosmetic cover
The outside layer of a prosthesis to give it a realistic appearance
Digital amputation
Amputation of toe or finger
Dorsiflexion
The position of the foot when the toes are pulling up (eg.  if you stand on your heels your ankle is dorsiflexed)
Donning
Putting the prosthesis on (eg.  donning your prosthesis)
Dysplasia
Abnormal development of bones and soft tissues
Early childhood intervention
Services that provide specialised support and services for infants and young children with developmental delay or disability
Ectrodactyly
Partial or total absence of central fingers
Femur
Thigh bone
Fibula
The smaller leg bone which runs down the outside leg below the knee
Flexion
The movement of a body segment into a more bent position (eg.  bending the knee is the same as flexing the knee)
Extension
The movement of a body segment into a more straight position (eg.  straightening the knee is the same as extending the knee)
Gait
The study of how a person walks - your walking 'style' is your gait
Hemimelia
Absence of half a limb
Hip disarticulation
Amputation through the hip joint
Humerus
Upper arm bone
Hypoplasia
Under-development of bones and tissues
Knee disarticulation
Amputation through the knee joint
Lateral
Outside aspect of leg and arm when body is in a normal position
Liner
The sleeve that goes between the prosthetic socket and the limb
Medial
Inside of the leg and arm when the body is in a normal position
Metacarpals
A group of five long bones in the hand located between the carpal bones and the phalanges (finger bones)
Meromelia
Partial absence of a limb
Milestones
The theoretical stages of child development
Myoelectric prosthesis
Uses the electrical signals from voluntarily contracted muscles in a person's residual limb to control the movements of the prosthesis
Neuroma
A collection of fibrous tissue often found around a cut nerve ending in a residual limb that can cause pain on palpation
Oedema
Swelling of the stump or extremity
Palpation
Part ofa physical examination where the examiner uses their hands to examine certain body parts
Partial foot amputation
Amputation of a part of the foot (also known as Chopart, Lisfranc, Ray amputations)
Patella
Kneecap
Patella tendon
Tendon attaching the kneecap to the top of the tibia
Pylon
The pole connecting sections of the prosthesis
Plantar-flexion
The downward movement of the foot (eg.  if you walk on your toes your ankle is plantar-flexed)
Phalanges
The long bones in the fingers and toes
Phantom pain
The feeling of pain in an absent limb
Phantom sensation
Awareness of the amputated limb
Phocomelia
Flipper-like appendage attached to the trunk
Pistoning
When the residual limb moves excessively in and out of the socket when walking
Polydactyly
More than the normal number of fingers or thumbs
Pressure area
Tender or broken skin caused by prolonged or excessive pressure
Prosthesis
Artificial limb
Proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD)
Rare, non-hereditary birth defect affecting the hip joint and femur, resulting in a deformed hip joint and a shorter leg
Radius
Long forearm bone on the thumb side
Residual limb
The remaining part of the limb, sometimes referred to as a 'stump'
Rigid dressing
A hard protective cover or a cast applied soon after amputation to control swelling and protect the residual limb
Shoulder disarticulation
Amputation through the shoulder joint
Shrinker
A compression sock used to control swelling in the residual limb after amputation
Socket
The custom made part of the prosthesis which encases the residual limb
Step length
The distance from one foot contacting the ground until the other foot contacts the ground
Stride length
The distance from one foot contacting the ground until that same foot contacts the ground again
Stump volume
Size of the residual limb
Stump sock
A sock worn over residual limb to provide a cushion between the skin and socket
Suspension
Refers to how the prosthesis is held on
Symes amputation
Amputation through the ankle joint
Symbrachydactyly
Under-developed hand with central finger deficiencies
Symphalangia
Stiff fingers or thumb from fusion of bones
Syndactyly
Webbed fingers or thumb
Synostosi
Bone fusion
Tarsal bones
The group of small bones in the foot (including the heel bone) that join the lower leg bone to the metatarsals
Terminal device
The attachment on the end of an upper limb prosthesis (eg.  hooks, hands, specialized tools)
Transfemoral amputation
Amputation above the knee through the femur
Transhumeral amputation
Amputation above the elbow through the humerus
Transmetacarpal amputation
Amputation through the metacarpal bones
Transmetatarsal amputation
Amputation through the metatarsal bones
Transtibial amputation
Amputation below knee through the tibia and fibula bones
Transradial amputation
Amputation below elbow through the bones of the radius and ulna (the bones between the elbow and wrist - the forearm)
Tibia Shin bone
The large bone at the lower front of the leg
Ulna
Long forearm bone on the little finger side
Unilateral
Affecting one side
Walking velocity
Speed of walking
Weight transference
Moving weight from one foot or side to the other
Wrist disarticulation
Amputation through the wrist joint
Vacterl
A non-random association of birth defects
Van Ness rotationplasty
Surgical removal of the foot followed by reattachment to the femur but rotated 180 degrees, so the ankle now functions as the knee joint