Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Prostheses

4-minute read

Prostheses are artificial parts that replace a missing part of the body. A prosthesis is designed to improve someone's quality of life by restoring a function or their appearance, and often both. Many basic prostheses are available through the public health system.

What are prostheses?

A prosthesis substitutes for a part of the body that may have been missing at birth, or that is lost in an accident or through amputation. Many amputees have lost a limb as part of treatment for cancer, diabetes or severe infection.

A prosthesis might also be an alternative to reconstructive surgery; for example, after removal of a nose or breast to treat cancer. 

Modern prostheses for areas such as the hands, feet and the face look very natural. They are often used to improve appearance rather than function. However, researchers are now developing hand prostheses with moving fingers. 

Technological developments are also improving the function of limb prostheses. Some modern prosthetic limbs have battery-powered motors that help improve the prostheses’ function. 

The range of prostheses includes surgically-implanted artificial body parts, such as replacement heart valves, bones or joints, and cochlear implants. If you have one of these, your medical team will advise you on maintaining your health and lifestyle following the surgery.

You might also have heard the word orthosis used. An orthosis supports and enhances a limb or body part, while a prosthesis replaces it. For example, an artificial leg is a prosthesis, while a splint to support the leg is an orthosis.

Types of prosthesis

Limb prostheses include:

  • arm prostheses fitted at, above or below the elbow
  • leg prostheses fitted at, above or below the knee

Other types of prosthesis include:

  • hand, foot, finger and toe prostheses
  • an artificial breast worn in the bra to replace a breast removed due to cancer
  • hearing aids
  • artificial eyeballs
  • ear, nose or eye socket replacements
  • an artificial soft or hard palate (worn like a dental plate)

Who can help with prostheses?

Prosthetists are health professionals who specialise in prostheses. If you need one, they will work with your medical team to design and fit your prosthesis and help you use and care for it. 

If you need an orthotic device to correct problems with posture and walking, you might also be assisted by an orthotist. 

What do prostheses cost?

Artificial limbs cost thousands of dollars, but there are many sources of funding. The cost might be covered in full or in part by:

Public funding does not usually cover spare limbs or, for adults, limbs for specific sporting activities. You might choose to pay a contribution to get a higher quality model prosthesis than one that public funding would supply. 

Funding for breast prostheses is available under the External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Program.

Private health insurance generally doesn’t cover external prosthetic limbs or external breast prostheses. Nor does it usually cover implants that have a purely cosmetic function. 

Talk to your health professional about costs and funding sources. Remember to ask about the costs of surgery, scans, tests and hospital stays. 

Prostheses for children

Children need prostheses that will allow them to be active and playful. Because they are growing, children will also need to have their prostheses adjusted every few months.

Learning how to use a prosthesis is challenging and tiring for anyone, especially a child. Limbs4Kids is an organisation that provides support for children who are missing a limb and for their families.

The Australian Government offers a range of allowances that specifically relate to parenting and disability, including the Carer Allowance, Carer Payment, Mobility Allowance, Pensioner Education Supplement and Family Payments. Visit the Department of Human Services or Carer Gateway websites for more information.

Living with prostheses

A prosthesis can help you cope better with day-to-day activities, but it takes time to get used to. You’ll need regular check-ups, and maybe adjustments, to make the prosthesis as comfortable and useful as possible. And you might need a plan for rehabilitation to make sure you benefit from your prosthesis as much as possible.

You will need to take care of yourself and your prosthesis.

You should: 

  • remove the prosthesis for sleeping
  • regularly inspect your limb's stump and keep the skin healthy
  • wear appropriate protection between the stump and the prosthesis
  • wear the appropriate shoes for a leg prosthesis
  • clean the socket of the prosthesis
  • see your prosthetist for regular check-ups

Sources of support and more information

Last reviewed: July 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Breast prostheses & reconstruction - Cancer Council Victoria

On this page: What is a breast prosthesis? | What is a breast reconstruction? | Do I need a prosthesis or reconstruction? | Which is right for me? | When can I wear a prosthesis? | When can I have a reconstruction?

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Types of prosthesis supplied by WALSA

WALSA supplies a number of prostheses including lightweight products if you have limited functional ability.

Read more on WA Health website

Breast Forms & Wigs - Counterpart

Counterparthas a display cabinet containing a wide variety of breast forms (prostheses), bras and accessories

Read more on Counterpart - Women supporting women with cancer website

External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Program - Australian Government Department of Human Services

Help with the cost of an external breast prosthesis after breast cancer surgery. You can get up to a maximum of $400 for each prosthesis.

Read more on Centrelink website

HTA - Health Technology Assessment (HTA)

Health Technology Assessment (HTA) The Australian Government assists Australians in accessing necessary health services and technologies by subsidising the cost of health-related goods and services through a range of different funding arrangements including public subsidy through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), and through private health insurance reimbursement of prostheses through the Prostheses List

Read more on Department of Health website

Orthotist-prosthetist | Raising Children Network

Your child might see an orthotist-prosthetist if parts of her body need extra support or protection, or she needs an artificial limb. Read more.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

What is an IOL? | Intraocular Lens | Cataract | Fred Hollows

The IOL (Intraocular Lens) restores sight and could be called the most valuable piece of plastic in the world. Read more.

Read more on Fred Hollows Foundation website

Travelling and medical documentation - myDr.com.au

Older travellers, pregnant women, people with a chronic condition and those taking prescription medicines may need to carry documentation of their medical requirements.

Read more on myDr website

Common medical procedures for heart conditions

Once your doctor knows what your heart condition is, he or she will then decide what treatments or procedures you may need.

Read more on WA Health website

Heart procedures and devices | The Heart Foundation

The Heart Foundation saves lives and improves health through funding world-class cardiovascular research, guidelines for health professionals, informing the public and assisting people with cardiovascular disease

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo