Types of Prosthetic Hands: Innovations and Capabilities

This article shows you the range from cosmetic to advanced myoelectric hands, detailing their functions and the innovative strides shaping their evolution. Discover the core features that set these prosthetic hands apart and explore the considerations that could influence your decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Prosthetic hands come in various forms ranging from cosmetic and passive devices for appearance, body-powered hands for functional durability, to advanced myoelectric hands which offer sophisticated control and movement patterns.
  • The user experience with prosthetic hands is greatly influenced by the interplay of the prosthesis components like the socket, suspension system, and weight, which affect comfort, functionality, and ease of use.
  • Financial considerations are crucial in the procurement and maintenance of prosthetic hands, with costs varying widely based on the type and features of the prosthetic, but insurance may often cover medically necessary devices.

Understanding Prosthetic Hands and Their Functions

Attaching a robotic hand to an prosthetic arm. Black carbon fiber color
Attaching a robotic hand to an prosthetic arm. Black carbon fiber color

Mirroring the functions of a human hand, prosthetic hands are intricately designed devices. These devices capture electrical activity resulting from intentional muscle movements in the residual limb, which then sends signals to a controller for classification. In myoelectric prosthetic hands, electrodes positioned on the skin detect these signals, controlling the movements of the hand. However, not all prosthetic hands are myoelectric. Some are manually controlled through shifts in the harness and muscle tension, pulling on a cable to open and close the hand.

The role of these devices in the lives of upper limb amputees is undeniable, especially in the context of upper limb amputations. They serve as a tool in:

  • Regaining normal function
  • Leading independent lives
  • Adjusting to a new way of life
  • Regaining strength
  • Improving mobility

Essentially, they act as a substitute for the missing limb, allowing the performance of daily activities that would be challenging or impossible without the prosthesis.

In addition to their functional aspects, prosthetic hands offer several benefits for upper extremity amputees:

  • Boost confidence and provide a sense of completeness
  • Aid in the acceptance of the prosthesis
  • Offer cosmetic advantages that enhance the individual’s quality of life and self-image
  • Reduce social anxiety
  • Improve overall well-being

Prosthetic hands, enabling routine tasks and boosting self-confidence, are more than mere functional replacements. They symbolize hope and resilience, empowering individuals to lead fulfilling lives despite their physical adversities.

The Spectrum of Prosthetic Hand Options

Let’s look deeper into the variety of options available. The sleection of upper limb prostheses is diverse, offering a range of devices including:

  • Cosmetic and passive devices used for aesthetic purposes
  • Body-powered devices operated by human movement
  • Advanced myoelectric and externally powered devices controlled by electrical signals

Cosmetic and Passive Devices

Cosmetic prosthetic hands are primarily designed with aesthetics in mind. They are typically crafted from a transparent silicone glove, meticulously painted to correspond with the individual’s skin tone. Passive prosthetic hands, on the other hand, are constructed from materials like PVC or silicone. Both types can be used in the fabrication of a prosthetic arm, providing a more complete and natural appearance.

The appearance of these prosthetic hands is remarkably realistic. The attention to detail, particularly in cosmetic hands, is truly astounding. The clear silicone glove is artistically painted to precisely match the user’s skin tone, providing an uncanny resemblance to a natural hand. This realism is vital for individuals who have undergone upper limb amputation, as it helps them feel more confident and comfortable in social situations.

Despite their realistic appearance, cosmetic and passive prosthetic hands do not offer active movement or functionality. Their design is primarily focused on creating a life-like appearance that closely resembles the natural hand in shape and color. These passive prosthesis devices serve as a testament to the saying “beauty over function,” providing users with an aesthetically pleasing solution that enhances their self-esteem and social acceptance.

Body Powered Prosthetic Hands

Body-powered prosthetic hands, as their name suggests, are a type of body powered prostheses operated by using human movement to open and close the hand or hook. The operation of these devices involves the use of a cable linked to the terminal device, which aids in physical activities. These devices are suitable for individuals who have undergone arm amputation and need a durable and functional prosthetic solution.

There are numerous advantages to body-powered prosthetic hands, including:

  • Durability
  • Shorter training period
  • Less frequent need for adjustments
  • Minimal maintenance
  • Improved proprioceptive feedback due to the cable and harness system

Their strength is assessed by measuring the cable operation forces needed, which usually fall within the range of 33 to 131 N, with an ideal operational threshold for fatigue-free use at approximately 50 N.

Despite providing a range of benefits, these prosthetic device options have certain drawbacks. Their mechanical appearance may not appeal to everyone, and some users may find them difficult to use. However, despite these potential challenges, body-powered prosthetic hands remain a popular choice for those seeking a durable and functional solution to arm amputation.

Myoelectric and Externally Powered Hands

Myoelectric prosthetic hands, a type of myoelectric prostheses, represent the cutting edge of prosthetic technology. These advanced devices operate by utilizing electromyographic (EMG) signals produced by the user’s muscles. Surface electrodes or sensors detect these signals, which are then used to regulate the movements of the prosthetic hand, driven by motors and batteries.

Myoelectric hands are composed of several key elements, including:

  • A motor
  • Mechanical components
  • An inner mechanism
  • A handlike structure
  • A cosmetic glove
  • Power-supplying batteries

Together, these components create a sophisticated modular prosthetic limb that offers a more natural and intuitive control system, catering to the needs of upper limb amputees.

One of the standout features of myoelectric prosthetic hands is their ability to offer various grip functions that facilitate fine motor skills and ergonomic movement patterns. Some myoelectric hands have been developed with five grip pattern modes, providing users with a range of options for object manipulation. The precision of control in myoelectric prosthetic hands can reach an accuracy rate of up to 90%, offering precise and versatile control over a wide range of finger movements and grip patterns.

The Interplay Between Prosthetic Components and User Experience

Understanding the different types of prosthetic hands is key, but considering their impact on the user’s experience is of equal importance. This often boils down to the interplay between different prosthetic components and how they collectively contribute to the individual’s comfort, functionality, and ease of use.

For instance, the key components of a prosthetic hand include:

  • The socket component, serving as the interface between the body and the prosthesis, plays a huge role. A properly fitting socket is essential for ensuring comfort and satisfaction, while an ill-fitting socket can lead to discomfort and negatively impact prosthetic use and functional outcomes.
  • The appendage (which can be a hand or hook) facilitates a broad spectrum of arm and hand movements, enhancing the overall functionality of the device.
  • The pylon provides support and stability to the prosthetic hand.
  • The suspension system helps to secure the prosthetic hand to the residual limb.

These components collaborate to create a prosthetic hand that allows for a range of movements and improves the overall functionality of the device.

The weight of the prosthetic hand also has a notable impact on the user’s experience. Heavier hands can result in heightened discomfort and fatigue, whereas lighter hands are typically easier to use and more comfortable, thus improving the user experience. Similarly, grip strength holds significant importance for individuals utilizing prosthetic hands as it facilitates the execution of daily activities, allows for the modulation of force when interacting with objects, and overall, plays a crucial role in enhancing performance and independence in daily life.

Innovations in Upper Limb Prosthetics

Woman standing in a studio with her advanced prosthetic arm and hand
Woman standing in a studio with her advanced prosthetic arm and hand

New innovations are constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the ever-evolving field of upper limb prosthetics. Regenerative peripheral nerve interfaces and targeted reinnervation, for instance, enhance efferent nerve signals to enable precise control of hand functions. This results in a more natural feel and control, making these advanced prosthetic hands feel closer to the real thing.

Robotics is an area contributing significantly to the advancement of prosthetic hand technology. By incorporating soft robotics, biomechanics, and integration with brain-computer interfaces, it’s now possible to create flexible and natural-moving multi-jointed prosthetics. These advancements offer users more natural and intuitive control, significantly improving their overall experience.

Another innovation in the field is 3D printing. This technology has made it possible to develop personalized prosthetic hands that are specifically designed to meet the unique requirements of the individual. Not only does this lead to a notable reduction in both the time and expenses associated with manufacturing, but it has also enabled the remote production and distribution of these prosthetics. These innovations are paving the way for a future where high-quality, customized prosthetic hands are accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Customization and Adaptability in Prosthetic Hands

Smiling woman with an advanced prosthetic arm and hand standing in a studio
Smiling woman with an advanced prosthetic arm and hand standing in a studio

Despite the significant role of technological advancements in improving prosthetic hand functionality, customization and adaptability hold equal importance. Prosthetic hands are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, they must be tailored to meet individual needs and goals.

The customization of prosthetic hands involves a thorough design and production process, which commonly involves computer-assisted designing (CAD) and extensive consultation with patients. This process ensures that the prosthetic not only provides a comfortable fit but also aligns with the user’s specific requirements and lifestyle preferences.

Modifications can also be made to prosthetic hands to improve performance in specific activities. This can involve altering the grasping mechanism and orientation of parts of the prosthesis to align with the task at hand.

The adaptive customization of prosthetic hands significantly improves the user experience. It personalizes the device to align with the individual’s unique physical characteristics and preferences. This can involve:

Rehabilitation and Training with Prosthetic Hands

Smiling man with an prosthetic arm and hand greeting a friend outdoors
Smiling man with an prosthetic arm and hand greeting a friend outdoors

Receiving a prosthetic hand is merely the first step in a longer journey, with the subsequent challenge being learning to use it effectively through rehabilitation and training. The process involves activities such as ambulating with a load on the prosthetic side or manipulating items with the hand, potentially utilizing ambulatory aids as necessary.

The process of training with a prosthetic hand generally involves multiple phases, including:

  1. Preprosthetic program: This phase focuses on residual limb care and preparation.
  2. Controls training: Users learn how to operate the controls of their prosthetic hand.
  3. Repetitive drills: This phase involves practicing specific movements and tasks to improve dexterity and coordination.
  4. Bimanual functional skill training: Users learn how to perform everyday tasks using both their prosthetic hand and their remaining natural hand.

This phased approach allows the user to gradually get accustomed to their new prosthetic hand and learn how to use it effectively.

Successful rehabilitation and training guarantee that the patient achieves proficiency in using the prosthetic hand, resulting in increased independence and improved ability to carry out daily activities. This is a critical stage in the journey, as it is during this phase that users learn to make the most of their prosthetic hands and truly regain their independence.

The Impact of Prosthetic Hands on Daily Life

Prosthetic hands have a profound impact on daily life. For amputees, these devices provide a chance to regain a sense of normalcy, allowing them to carry out everyday activities with more ease. Prosthetic hands contribute to the enhancement of independence for amputees by enabling them to utilize both hands concurrently, engage in a broader spectrum of activities, and approach various tasks and activities with confidence.

The ability to perform activities of daily living independently can significantly improve the quality of life for amputees. And can also play a role in reducing social anxiety and mitigating post-amputation depression.

The presence of a prosthetic hand can lead to a heightened sense of confidence and inclusion in society for amputees. By restoring the form and function of the missing limb, prosthetic hands help individuals regain their self-esteem and reintegrate into society. They help individuals reclaim their lives, allowing them to participate in social activities, pursue their hobbies, and lead fulfilling lives.

Choosing the Right Prosthetic Hand for You

Making the right decision in choosing a prosthetic hand can have a impact on an individual’s quality of life. Many factors need to be considered when making this decision, including:

  • Lifestyle patterns
  • Intended use
  • Personal preferences
  • Physical capabilities
  • Rehabilitation needs
  • Social interactions
  • Environmental and weather impact
  • Cost
  • Targeted activities for physical engagement

The selection of a prosthetic hand is influenced by an individual’s lifestyle due to varying preferences and requirements based on their daily activities, the level of amputation, and the specific needs of their lifestyle. Similarly, the intended use plays a crucial role in the selection of a prosthetic hand as it assists in determining the most suitable prosthesis for restoring autonomy and enabling the performance of daily tasks that are tailored to the user’s lifestyle.

The decision-making process can be complex and tough. That’s where prosthetists come in. These professionals play a big role in guiding individuals through the process of selecting a prosthetic hand. From initial patient evaluation to the design, creation, fitting, and adjustment of custom prosthetic devices, they provide the necessary support and guidance to ensure the individual ends up with a prosthetic hand that best meets their needs and enhances their quality of life.

Prosthetic Hand Maintenance and Care

Proper maintenance and care of a prosthetic hand are critical for its longevity and optimal performance. Here are some important steps to follow:

  1. Regularly inspect for loose screws and bolts.
  2. Maintain cleanliness and protect from moisture.
  3. Regularly monitor for signs of wear and tear.
  4. Ensure proper fit.
  5. Appropriately store the prosthesis.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your prosthetic hand stays in good condition and functions properly for a long time.

Common issues with prosthetic hands, such as dermatologic problems, power source issues, control signal errors, and poorly fitting sockets, can be resolved by referring to care guidelines, inspecting power sources, making adjustments to control settings, and ensuring appropriate socket fit. In a home setting, individuals using prosthetic hands can engage in activities such as hand washing, typing, and utilizing adjustable parameters offered by certain prosthetics to make minor modifications.

To maintain an optimal fit and functionality of prosthetic hands, it is recommended to schedule professional check-ups with a prosthetist biannually. By following these guidelines and maintaining regular contact with healthcare professionals, users can ensure that their prosthetic hand continues to serve them well for years to come.

Financial Considerations and Insurance for Prosthetic Hands

Procuring a prosthetic hand requires a significant financial commitment. The cost can vary greatly, from $2,000 to $100,000, depending on the type of prosthetic hand and its features. Various factors contribute to the cost, including:

  • Physical factors
  • Activities and participation
  • Mental factors
  • Social factors
  • Rehabilitation
  • Prosthetist services
  • Specific features of the prosthetic hand itself

In addition to the initial cost of the prosthetic hand, there are also ongoing costs associated with maintaining the device. These may differ, but the maintenance of a prosthetic hand generally entails substantial expenses for components and yearly upkeep.

While the costs associated with prosthetic hands can be scary, it’s important to note that health insurance, including Medicaid and most plans, generally offers coverage for prosthetic limbs, particularly when they are considered medically necessary. It’s always worth checking with your insurance provider to understand what coverage is available to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 4 types of prosthetics?

The four types of prosthetics are transradial, transhumeral, transtibial, and transfemoral, each serving different functions depending on the missing body part.

How much does prosthetic hand cost?

The cost of a prosthetic hand can range from $5,000 for a cosmetic prosthetic to $100,000 for the latest myoelectric arm technology. These prices can vary based on the type of prosthetic and insurance coverage.

What is a passive prosthetic hand?

A passive prosthetic hand is designed to look like a natural hand but does not have active movement. It can improve a person’s function by providing a surface for stabilizing or carrying objects.

Are there prosthetics for hands?

Yes, there are prosthetics for hands, including passive partial hand prostheses and body-powered prosthetic hand mechanisms that are actuated by human body movement through wires or cables. These devices provide functional enhancement for everyday life.

What is the role of prosthetic hands in restoring independence for amputees?

Prosthetic hands are crucial in helping upper limb amputees regain independence by acting as a substitute for the missing limb, enabling them to perform daily activities and lead independent lives. This ability to regain normal function and mobility is essential for adjusting to a new way of life.


Prosthetic hands are powerful tools that can transform lives, offering independence, mobility, and confidence. With a range of options available, from cosmetic and passive devices to body-powered and myoelectric hands, there’s a prosthetic hand out there to meet the unique needs of every individual. As technology continues to advance, we can only expect prosthetic hands to become even more sophisticated, offering users greater functionality, comfort, and quality of life.

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