Those of us lucky enough to have good health and all of our fingers, toes, arms and legs often take these things for granted. The many parts of our bodies work well together, and we usually don’t give them a second thought.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like without one of the important parts of your body, though? How would your life change if you had only one arm? What would your daily routine be like if you had only one leg?

Many people live their daily lives without the benefit of one or more parts of their bodies. There are many reasons for this.

Some people are born without certain parts of their bodies. Others might have accidents or suffer from diseases that result in the loss of a limb.

When these things happen, these people lose more than just a part of themselves. They also lose the functionality that was associated with that part of their bodies.

Certain tasks may now be impossible. Many other tasks may be much more difficult.

Thanks to artificial body parts — called “prosthetics” (plural) — people can now regain many of the functions of missing limbs. A prosthesis (singular) rarely provides the same level of functionality of a biological limb. However, the capabilities it can provide can significantly improve the life of the user.

Although Benjamin Franklin Palmer received a patent for the artificial leg in 1846, prosthetics have been around for much longer than that. Ancient stories and poems contain references to prosthetic limbs.

Ancient Greek and Roman texts also offer evidence that artificial limbs were used thousands of years ago. For example, historians have found ancient Roman texts that describe Roman General Marcus Sergius.

He lost his right hand in battle. He had a replacement hand made out of iron, so he could hold his shield. He then returned to battle to continue fighting.

In 2000, researchers in Egypt found what they believe is the oldest artificial body part ever found. It was a prosthetic toe made out of wood and leather.

They found it attached to the mummified remains of an Egyptian noblewoman — who died almost 3,000 years ago!

Perhaps the most famous prosthetic devices from history come from pirate lore. Peg legs and metal “hands” shaped like hooks were actually early prosthetic devices that were quite popular for many years.

Today, modern prosthetics continue to evolve and develop. New materials, like advanced plastics and carbon-fiber composite materials, have allowed prosthetics to become lighter, stronger and more realistic.

Advanced electronics have also made today’s prosthetics more functional. Some artificial limbs can be controlled electronically to allow users to function as if the artificial limb were real.

Prosthetics have advanced to the point where some athletes can compete at a professional level with artificial limbs. Benjamin Franklin Palmer probably never imagined that one day there would be Olympic runners using artificial limbs to compete on a level equal to athletes with biological limbs.

 

61 Join the Discussion

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    • Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this super nice comment, Leilani & Nation! We check for comments from our Wonder Friends several times throughout the day and send comments back to them! We enjoy hearing from everyone…it’s like having special pen pals all over the world! :-)

  1. We liked the wonder today! Our class has seen prosthetics on many people. We’ve seen athletes use them, too. Some people in our class have seen, heard, or read about soldiers who have prosthetics and compete in sports with them. It is amazing how people with prosthetics can live just like people who have all their biological limbs. Who knew that prosthetics could change so much over time! We are still wondering if people can tell if you have a prosthetic limb without them letting you know. We think it’s great that people can still do the things that they want to do. Thank you for the great information..and letting us learn a new word to say and spell:).

    • We really liked receiving your comment today, Mrs. Mac’s Class! We can tell you learned a lot of new things about prosthetics, and we LOVE that you had a classroom discussion about what you learned after you explored today’s Wonder! Thank you so much for sharing with us all today! :-)

  2. I have not seen you in a long time, Wonderopolis, but my name is Josh and I moved to another house. :) I didn’t know one of the runners has no legs, so, have a great night. :)

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Josh! We’re glad you stopped by for a visit and learned something new from this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. What a great topic for today! I have some physical disabilities, and a teacher who helped me succeed in school with my “disabilities” has a prosthetic leg. I had worked with her for two years, and at the beginning of the third year, she got in an accident and lost her left leg below the knee. After her recovery and lots of rehabilitation, she came back to work with me near the end of that school year. I didn’t know anything about prosthetics until after she came back to school to work with me. Now I have several friends who have prosthetic eyes–obviously, they don’t help my friends see, but they help them to look more “normal.” Thanks for the great info–I sure learned a lot today!

    • You always leave us AWESOME comments, Bethany! Thank you for sharing about your teacher friend’s story and for letting us know you learned some new things by exploring this Wonder! :-)

    • That’s really, REALLY cool, Duane! Thank you for sharing this link so that all of our Wonder Friends can see how prosthetics can help animals, too! :-)

  4. Do you guys actually type the text under the video? Or do you get the information from an article or magazine? I’ve been wondering this for a while. Anyway, thanks for the answer my question on prosthetics. :)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Clayton! The text under the video is an important part of each Wonder of the Day®…it lets you know what’s coming up before you explore! We gather the information we use to create each Wonder from many different places (books, interviews, websites, etc.)! We search for the best videos and links to go along with each Wonder, too! Once we gather all the information and extra stuff, we put it into a special format and share it with everyone in Wonderopolis! We try really hard to make sure each Wonder is full of interesting facts, cool links and LOTS of FUN! :-)

  5. This was a WONDERful wonder today, Wonderopolis! I learned so many new things today like who created prosthetics. My uncle was in the army and he stepped on a bomb, so his leg came off. Now he has a prosthetic leg and walks just like a normal person. A few weeks ago, I went to go see the movie Dolphin Tale. Winter, the dolphin, also had to get a prosthetic tail and now he swims normal. I think prosthetics are really cool and help a lot of people. I really would love to learn more about this topic!

    • Hello, Emmalee! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day® about prosthetics! We are sorry that your uncle lost his leg, but we think it is awesome that you shared with us how his life has been improved thanks to his prosthetic leg! We also appreciate you reminding us of the movie, Dolphin’s Tale! That is a GREAT way for kids who might not know about prosthetics to see how they can help humans and animals! :-)

  6. This wonder was awesome! I think it is so cool how once you have a prosthetic body part and you get used to having it, you can learn to use it like the real body part! When I saw a movie called Soul Surfer, a girl tried out a prosthetic arm because she didn’t have one and she really didn’t like it! After I saw that movie some friends and I tried using only one arm and realized it was a lot harder! There are a lot of people who don’t have real body parts like Bethany Hamilton (the girl in Soul Surfer), but have really cool stories of how they learned to live without those body parts.

    • We really loved your comment, Amanda! Thank you for sharing it! You are right, some people who lose limbs or are born without them choose to live without the use of prosthetics. We think it is AWESOME that you and your friends practiced EMPATHY and tried to see what it might feel like to be without the use of one arm. Empathizing helps you understand how another person in a certain situation feels or thinks. We’re super proud of you! :-)

    • You were RIGHT, Aidan! The next Wonder of the Day® after this one (Wonder #397) was about MUMMIES! Did you visit it and learn some cool new facts? :-)

  7. Hey, my class is learning about prosthetics, they’re really cool! We even had a guest come in and tell us how it happened, what he can’t do, it was a WONDERful time. The wonder of the day today was awesome, but this one was better! Now Benjamin Palmer won a patent in 1846 for a artificial leg? That is so cool/WONDERtastic.

    • We really like that word you used, Jesse! “WONDERtastic” is WONDERful! Thank you for sharing about your class’ experience in learning about prosthetics! What a great way to gain more knowledge about these helpful inventions! :-)

  8. that story just inspires me so much because it shows that anyone can do anything if the put their mind to it. just because someone maybe has a prosthetics doesn’t mean they can’t do great things. some people take for granted that the have 2 legs or 2 arms but we really shouldn’t. The guy in the video has good abilitys and a good routeen and he is healthy. he looks at the positive in life when he has less than us.

    thank you for listening

  9. WOW! Before this, and my class talk about it, I had no clue that prosthetics were mechanical limbs. I didn’t even know what prosthetics meant! Do the mechanical limbs actually help him go faster? I wonder if the limbs hurt when you put them on and if they ever wish that they had their limbs back. Please answer my questions if you can!

  10. I had a lot of fun learning about prosthetics today. When I saw the clip about prosthetics I was like WOW! I never even knew a person-without legs-could ever run that fast! What happens when people lose their whole leg, including their thigh? I WONDER how it would be without an arm or a leg. And one more thing, I liked the video.

  11. Hi Wonderopolis! My class and I were looking at prosthetics and at first I didn’t know the word at first but when I saw the picture I reconized it. Its amazing how some people use it to play hard sports and do other hard things. I see those pictures with people with prosthetics I was thinking that I am so lucky that I don’t have a limb thats gone. I read a comment and it says that animals use prosthetics. I never knew that! Thanks!

  12. Hi. I learned a lot about prosthetic.I learned things like peg legs are shaped like hooks.Prosthetic have been used for a long time.The oldest prosthetic was made out of wood.

  13. Hello
    Wow that is so cool.I would have thought that having those feet would be a disadvatage.That makes me want to know more about diffrent types of disabilities.
    :)I think that is is so cool that Benjamin Palmer won a patent for his artificial leg. But what is a patent.I would love to see Benjamin’s leg. Did he make it for himself or someone else if someone else who. I loved learning about this. I hope Oscer wins the next race.
    Thanks for letting me wonder.
    -Team Clark 8 :)

    • We are REALLY enjoying all of your comments to this Wonder of the Day® about prosthetics, Teams Wilch and Clark! Thank you all for all the extra (AWESOME) WONDERing you guys are doing! We’re proud of you! :-)

  14. Hi Wonderopolis,
    In class we are just starting to learn about prosthetics. I don’t know why some people can be so mean to someone who is disabled. Just because they are disabled doesn’t mean they can’t do anything. A lot of people take their life for granted. We are lucky to not have lost any limbs or born to be disabled. I think people that are disabled are really cool and unique.
    I think it’s so amazing how Benjamin Franklin Palmer can run so fast with prosthetics. See it’s amazing what people can do with prosthetics.
    Thanks for making me WONDER!

    Team Wilch 19

  15. I think it’s amazing that prosthetics are really thousands of years old! And I think we really do take things for granted like our limbs. The runner with prosthetic legs is amazing because he is an olimpic runner and has prosthetic legs. This wonder is very cool because it is so old. Thanks for the wonder!

    Team Wilch8

  16. hi,
    wow i never knew that much of prosthetics.Do you know what disease causes people to have prosthetics? I think it would feel uncomfortable,wouldn`t it?I might`ve seen someone with it and thought what happened or what it is called when they have it.

    Thank You for making me WONDER,

    Team Clark 19

  17. Hey Wonderopolis!!
    I loved the video about the track runner with prosthetic legs. Do you think it is helpful to have prosthetics when you run? I dont think it would, but if anything it would be hard to get used to. I loved that he said yes I realize it is a disability, but I dont think of it like that. I wonder how he lost his legs especialy at such a young age? I think it said he was 11 months old when it happened. I not only like the video, but I found it interesting that the first prosthetic was about 3,000 years old, but not only that it was for a toe!! I also wonder if it slows down the abilities for a person? I guess it would at first.

  18. HI WONDEROPOLIS!!
    I had no idea that prosthetics were over 100 years old!!! I thought that they were just 5 years old.I did not know that the oldest prosthesis ever found was a toe either! Those were some extremely interesting facts!

  19. I don’t know what it would feel like to have prosthetics. I WONDER why the plural for prosthetics is prosthesis. So if I had a patent for computers other people couldn’t make a computer. I WONDER if they could biologically grow skin to put on the prosthetics. I WONDER if the artificial limb gives them better abilities.

  20. I had a flash back when i heard about the fake leg. When i was 4 or 5 my grandma had a friend who was missing part of his leg so he had a fake one. And then once when i came over to see my grandma i got him to run around and chase me and then he said i haven’t ran since i got this fake leg. Then he showed me how at night he take it off and ever since i haven’t forgotten.Do the have fake arms too or fingers and what is your name. Why do they just say wonderopolis and not your real name sorry if i wrote so much i have lots and lots of questions that is why i love this website

  21. Hey Wonderopolis!

    My class read this today and it is so cool (and kind of disturbing) that the oldest toe was from a noblewoman who died 3,000 years ago! Also I find it WONDERING that the Olympics alow people with prosthetic limbs to compete with people who have biological limbs. That is very kind of them.

    We also saw the elephant with the prosthetic leg and that was cool that prosthetics also caan help animals. Also did you know that a dolphin named Winter got a prosthetic tail because she lost her real tail from a fishing net,I think. And a girl named Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark attack she tried wearing a prosthetic arm but she didn`t like it.

    Thanks for making me WONDER!
    Team Clark #2 ;0)

    • Keep up all this AMAZING WONDERing about prosthetics, Teams Wilch and Clark! We really appreciate you guys sharing all the cool things you have learned, what you are still wondering, and how you feel about the AWESOME people who wear prosthetics! We can tell you all have big hearts and are very caring Wonder Friends! :-)

  22. Prosthetics are very helpful.They let people who have lost a limb get a new one.I think prosthetics are a great invention.It will help a lot of people in the world.

  23. Hi

    I think that prosthetics are so cool! I feel bad though for the people that have to use them. Also do you know how they make prosthetic legs for elephants? Elephants weigh so much!

  24. Hello Wonderopolis,

    I just watched that video and it astonished me that he could run without any legs. He even said that he wasn’t disabled and according to him he isn’t. The thing that surprised me the most was that he won three olympic gold metals! That just proves that when you set your mind to do something you can achieve it. When I was reading the text I couldn’t believe that prosthetics have been around for three thousand years!

  25. Hi

    I think it is super cool how people with prosthetics can still particapate in sports. Because they kind of lost there abilities to walk and run and now they are granted the ability to run walk and participate in some sports. Also it said that there movements are like not as well as regular. My class and I watched some of the videoes and saw some of the picturees and the prosthesis look exactly like real skin. I sure would not like to lose a limb but in the rare case if I did then I would definitly at least want prosthetics. I wonder how diasabled people’s routines change. That might be interesting to look into sometime. It’s really cool learning about all these crazy things on wonderopolis. Our class is learning about the base pod or ped which means foot so i bet thats why my teacher brought us to this wonder. Wonderoplis is super fun. I love to write the comments. I think it is fun.

  26. Hi Wonderopolis,
    I enjoyed learning about prosthetics! One question I had was that since athletes can have the prosthetics, do they ever have a difficult time to have to run, kick, and jump? How do people know when they need the prosthetics? What is the age you have to be to have prosthetics? How do people cope after their surgery?
    TeamClark23

    • Way to go, Teams Wilch and Clark! You guys are super smart and your comments to this Wonder about prosthetics are AWESOME! We are really impressed with the way you are thinking about prosthetics. You are WONDERing about how wearing them affects people’s lives. What you are doing is called “EMPATHIZING” and we think you ROCK for it! :-)

  27. Wonderopolis,

    I think that prosthetics are SUPER cool!!! Does anyone on the Wonderopolis team have a prosthetic ? Well I thought that only humans could have prosthetics, so it was so interesting that there is an elephant with a prosthetic leg!! I thought it was interesting to because we are talking about ped and pod which means foot/feet! Do prosthetics cause injures to the person who see them? I thought the video was cool how the man who had the prothetic legs (which looked so real!) and the running “legs” he would put on his calf!! Do you think that the man was sad because people might thing that the running “legs” were an advantage? I did think that legs were a disadvantage but I thin that I am really thankful for what I have!!!

    Thanks for keeping Team Clark WONDER!!
    Team Clark #9

  28. Ooops sorry!

    Anyways…

    I think that prosthetics are a really good invention, because they help so many people. I thought that prothetics were like only a couple years old and I never imagined that they were more then 3,000!!! :) I think that it is cool how so many people wear them and the people who do can even play SPORTS! I think that everyone should be grateful.

    TeamClark13
    “PEACE OUT”

  29. Hello,
    It was great to see a professional athlete who has TWO prosthetic legs. I never knew that fake limbs were used in ancient times! I wonder why the pro athlete put on DIFFERENT legs than his original prosthetic leg? I knew that sailors used peg legs. I wonder how hard it would be to do your daily routine with a prosthetic leg?

  30. Those are some GREAT comments, Team Clark! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and letting us know all the SUPER things you are WONDERing about prosthetics! :-)

  31. Hello

    I liked learning about prosthetics.I didn’t
    know people with prosthetics could play sports.
    I wonder what careers you can get if you have prosthetics?I also wonder what a Patent is?

  32. Hi!
    This wonder was so AMAZING because an athlete has prosthetics but can still run really fast! Is there different things people can do better with prothetics that people without prothetics cant do? Do all prothetics have the same disadvantage or are some better then others at different things? Do prothetics ever hurt or what if they fall, do they need help getting back up or can they just get up?

  33. Hey Wonderopolis,

    I think that prosthetic is amazing!! I had know idea that they went so far back! I think that kids and adults that don’t have a limb ar every happy about prosthetic! I hope the that the track and field athlete make it to the Olympics in London!!!!

    Signing off,
    Team Clark 6

  34. Hey Wonderopolis
    I can’t believe that it goes back so far. They most likely got way more advanced as the years past. I can’t believe that they have so much ability with the fake legs, arms, and a lot of other stuff. I don’t think it’s cheating because the fake legs are as functional as a real legs.

  35. Hi Wonderopolis!
    I think that prosthetics are very interesting!
    The video of the guy who wears prosthetics, is so cool!
    I feel really bad for the people with disabilities.
    And the guy on the video is also very proud of himself, and I am too.
    Artificial body parts help people so much. If I didn’t have a leg or arm, I would like to have prosthetics.

    Thank you so much for this topic! I learned so many new things.

  36. Hi,
    I think it’s sad how they have to have a fake leg, but it’s also really cool because they can walk with these things. I also think it’s cool someone found a prosthetic toe that was used 3,000 years ago. I think it’s kind of cool that pirates wore peg legs because that the prosthetic leg back then. I think this was cool

    Goodbye

  37. Hi!
    I cant believe someone found a prosthetic toe in egypt made out of wood and leather that was used about 3,000 years ago.My daily routine would be different if I had a prosthetic leg.Things would be so much harder.I cant believe that olympic runners might have prosthetics too.I love learning about prosthetics.

    Goodbye

  38. Hi Wonderopolis!

    I enjoyed learning about prosthetics. I learned that peg legs are shaped like hooks. I think that prosthetics are a good invention because it helps many people! I’m very bad for people born without certain parts of their bodies. I’m lucky because I don’t have any disabilities.

    Thanks for the information
    Team Wilch 15

  39. Thanks for leaving us MORE amazing comments, Teams Clark and Wilch! We have really enjoyed reading all the GREAT ways you guys are WONDERing about prosthetics! We’re really, really proud of you! :-)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Billy! Thanks for visiting us today to Wonder! We’re glad you’re here! It’s awesome that this Wonder will be helpful for you in school- it’s so much fun to learn something new and cool! We do a lot of research using the library, the Internet, and we even talk to experts from time to time! Our information is nonfiction at Wonderopolis, so it’s been researched and it’s true! Thank you for asking, Billy! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What are prosthetics?
  • How old are prosthetics?
  • Can athletes perform with prosthetics?

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Try It Out

If you look around the world you live in, there are all sorts of people with different abilities and strengths. Some people choose to look for disabilities and weaknesses.

However, a closer look will reveal that those with so-called “disabilities” just have different abilities than others. Rather than focus on the negative aspects of obstacles, many people choose instead to embrace their strengths and focus on their unique abilities.

What abilities do you have? What are your strengths?

Some day, when it’s time to choose a career, you will want to choose a career path that takes advantage of your natural strengths and abilities. What path do you think you’ll choose?

Ask a friend or family member for help. Sometimes it can be hard to take a step back and realistically evaluate one’s own strengths.

Ask others what they think are your special talents and abilities. You might be surprised by what you learn!

 

Still Wondering

Check out Smithsonian’s History Explorer to listen to the Robert Jarvik Mends Broken Hearts audio podcast to learn about the man who invented the artificial heart.

 

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