Support for children and young people with limb differences and their families

Terms used to talk about limb difference

As the parent or carer of a child with limb difference you will hear different terms used to talk about limb difference and associated medical conditions, body parts, prosthetics, aids and equipment. Some words will be familiar to you, and some will be unfamiliar or technical terminology used by medical professionals, clinicians and service providers.

Choosing your words for limb difference

Children with limb differences are often described as ‘amputees’ by the medical sector. If you are uncomfortable with your child being referred to as an amputee because it does not accurately describe them, let people know what your preferred term is.

When anyone else uses words to describe your child that you consider to be incorrect, inappropriate or unpleasant, gently correct them and help them to understand. Often they don’t know which words to use, and are doing their best.

Find out more about talking about your child’s limb difference

Movement of a limb away from the body
Congenital absence of one or both hands
Movement of a limb towards the body
Congenital absence of one or more fingers or toes
Position of prosthetic socket in relation to foot and knee
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)
Absent fingers or toes
Absence of specific bones and parts
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
Wasting of tissues and muscles
Affecting both sides (eg. both legs)
Short finger or thumb
Number of steps walked in one minute
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
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
Relating to the opposite side
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
The position of the foot when the toes are pulling up (eg. if you stand on your heels your ankle is dorsiflexed)
Putting the prosthesis on (eg. donning your prosthesis)
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
Partial or total absence of central fingers
Thigh bone
The smaller leg bone which runs down the outside leg below the knee
The movement of a body segment into a more bent position (eg. bending the knee is the same as flexing the knee)
The movement of a body segment into a more straight position (eg. straightening the knee is the same as extending the knee)
The study of how a person walks – your walking ‘style’ is your gait
Absence of half a limb
Hip disarticulation
Amputation through the hip joint
Upper arm bone
Under-development of bones and tissues
Knee disarticulation
Amputation through the knee joint
Outside aspect of leg and arm when body is in a normal position
The sleeve that goes between the prosthetic socket and the limb
Inside of the leg and arm when the body is in a normal position
A group of five long bones in the hand located between the carpal bones and the phalanges (finger bones)
Partial absence of a limb
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
A collection of fibrous tissue often found around a cut nerve ending in a residual limb that can cause pain on palpation
Swelling of the stump or extremity
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 tendon
Tendon attaching the kneecap to the top of the tibia
The pole connecting sections of the prosthesis
The downward movement of the foot (eg. if you walk on your toes your ankle is plantar-flexed)
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
Flipper-like appendage attached to the trunk
When the residual limb moves excessively in and out of the socket when walking
More than the normal number of fingers or thumbs
Pressure area
Tender or broken skin caused by prolonged or excessive pressure
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
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
A compression sock used to control swelling in the residual limb after amputation
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
Refers to how the prosthesis is held on
Symes amputation
Amputation through the ankle joint
Under-developed hand with central finger deficiencies
Stiff fingers or thumb from fusion of bones
Webbed fingers or thumb
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)
Shin bone, the large bone at the lower front of the leg
Long forearm bone on the little finger side
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
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