The UAB Medicine Orthotics and Prosthetics Clinic specializes in support devices for weakened limbs and joints, as well as custom devices (prostheses) to replace limbs. Unlike with some clinics, these prostheses are designed, made, and adjusted in house at UAB Medicine, which makes it easier for patients to get a proper fit in less time.
Prosthetics is the branch of medicine that focuses on designing and making artificial body parts, called prostheses. UAB Medicine prosthetists are trained in the fitting and construction of both upper- and lower-limb prostheses. A standard prosthesis is made of individual parts that are combined to create an artificial limb. These parts connect to a socket that fits over the patient’s remaining limb.
Orthotics is a medical specialty that uses appliances to support joints and limbs, to help improve mobility and strength. UAB Medicine orthotists customize these appliances to make sure patients get the most comfortable and functional fit. Custom pedorthic (foot) devices, for example, support and reposition the foot structure to work in harmony with the leg, knee, and hip. This helps make each step pain-free, which is needed to prevent injury and maintain mobility.
UAB Medicine’s Orthotics and Prosthetics team delivers personalized care, using modern methods and materials that offer patients many choices. Because prostheses are made in house, patients benefit from better management of the care process and a better fit.
“We can keep our eyes on the fabrication from beginning to end,” says Brian Mueller, a certified prosthetist and manager of the clinic. “When getting the new prosthesis, patients may arrive here with swelling or shrinkage from surgery. That starts a period of adjustment where we are getting the fit and function perfected, the same way you might work to get a new medication at the correct dosage. If patients gain or lose weight, it may require yet another adjustment. I spend a lot of my time on adjustments and checking up with patients on how well the prosthesis is working. It’s convenient for our patients because they come here for adjustments rather than having to send anything to a vendor out-of-state.”
Tracy Brewer, administrative director of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Clinic, agrees that this convenience makes the entire process a better experience for patients.
“Having all the services right here, beginning with fabrication, is a huge benefit,” Brewer says. “It’s an ongoing process for our patients, including tweaking the device, replacing liners, and maintenance. Along with convenience, there’s the benefit of not incurring any additional costs. There’s no charge for office visits. Adjustments are free. In fact, our department even pays for parking.”
Creating a prosthesis involves plenty of personalized care at the clinic. The first treatment controls swelling and shapes the patient’s remaining limb. The process takes six to eight weeks, after which Mueller makes a cast or mold of the remaining limb and takes measurements. He creates the prosthesis within two weeks, then the patient comes in for a fitting.
“The first phase of my job is to get the best comfort and function,” Mueller says. “The second phase is selecting all the components that are available from manufacturers to fabricate the ideal prosthetic for the patient, based on age, activity level, and other criteria, so they can reach their maximum functional outcome.”
The team then tests range of motion, checks to see if the device causes discomfort, and completes the fit in about one week. Follow-up adjustments are done over the next few weeks and months, with additional adjustments and maintenance done every six months for the patient’s lifetime.
Complete Care for Over 50 Years
Located in UAB Spain Rehabilitation Center, the Orthotics and Prosthetics Clinic has been treating patients since 1966. Its practitioners and technicians have over 100 years of combined experience. The clinic provides complete care, from pre-surgery through rehabilitation. A team of physicians consults with the prosthetists prior to amputation surgery so that they can better explain to their patients what to expect.
Patients usually are referred to Conley Carr, MD, who directs the Spain Rehabilitation Center Amputee Clinic. Dr. Carr counsels patients on pre-prosthetic rehabilitation prior to an amputation and follows their progress to prescribe prosthetic limbs and improve mobility and function.
Click here to learn more about the UAB Medicine Orthotics and Prosthetics Clinic.