People lose limbs or suffer orthopedic impairment for many reasons, including accidents, combat injuries, birth defects and disease. Health care workers who specialize in orthotics and prosthetics (O&P) help these patients regain their mobility by fitting them with artificial limbs (prostheses) and orthopedic braces (orthoses).
At the highest level, O&P practitioners perform a detailed assessment to determine the patient’s O&P needs and assess the patient’s functional status, including muscle development, gait, sensory function, range of motion, joint stability and skin integrity.
O&P Practitioners also:
- Develop a plan that addresses the patient’s needs and goals, including pain reduction, comfort, stability and mobility, as well as aesthetics.
- Select the appropriate design, materials and components for optimum strength, durability and function.
- Discuss the treatment plan, including benefits, risks and time involved.
- Prepare the patient for the device, with the use of splints or compression garments, as needed.
- Take measurements, make impressions and develop templates as needed to accurately fit the device.
- Fabricate/assemble the device and assess and properly align it for maximum function and comfort.
- Explain how to use and maintain the device.
- Provide ongoing care, including evaluation and modification of the device for optimal fit and function.
This fascinating field encompasses a variety of specialized careers, each of which contributes to designing, making, fitting, modifying, repairing and maintaining O&P devices that make an immeasurable impact on an individual’s quality of life:
- Pedorthists make and/or modify footwear—including shoes, foot orthoses and other pedorthic devices to help people maintain or regain mobility.
- Certified fitters are trained and qualified to participate in the fit/delivery of prefabricated orthotic devices/soft goods (orthotic fitter); breast prostheses and mastectomy products/services (mastectomy fitter); or non-custom therapeutic shoes and diabetic multi-density inserts (therapeutic shoe fitter).
- Certified technicians work with O&P practitioners to fabricate, repair and maintain O&P devices using highly specialized materials and equipment to provide maximum fit, function and aesthetics. They do not provide direct patient care.
- Certified assistants help O&P practitioners with patient management as well as with the fabrication, fit and maintenance of O&P devices.
Many people enter this field because they or someone they know has benefited from a prosthetic or orthotic device. It is extremely rewarding to watch someone with a severe impairment regain lost abilities and enjoy new independence. Advances in technology, such as microprocessors, myoelectric joints and computer imaging, make this a particularly exciting time to be involved in O&P.
O&P professionals work in private practice, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, specialty clinics and laboratories devoted to the fabrication, modification and repair of O&P devices.
Salary Range and Outlook
The U.S. Department of Education lists O&P training as a “national priority with a practitioner deficit.” The need for O&P services is rising rapidly, due in part to increasing obesity, diabetes and an aging population. The ability to provide the most cost-effective and clinically appropriate O&P care will be dependent on having a large enough pool of well-educated certified orthotists and prosthetists.
According to the 2013 American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA) Benefits & Compensation Report, average compensation (base salary, bonus and commission) for the following job titles is:
- $95,332 for a certified orthotist/prosthetist with an average of 18 years’ experience
- $50,916 for a certified pedorthist with an average of 15 years’ experience
- $49,047 for a certified technician with an average of 15 years’ experience
- $49,564 for a certified assistant with an average of six years’ experience
- $38,677 for a certified fitter with an average of seven years’ experience
- $33,908 for a National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) resident with an average of one year of experience
Compensation varies based on many factors, e.g., geographical location, years of experience and inclusion or exclusion of fringe benefits.
Training requirements vary depending on the type of orthotics and prosthetics (O&P) career you choose:
Students can sit for their certification exam after they complete a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education (CAAHEP) and a one-year residency per discipline.
Learn More About a Career as an Orthotist and Prosthetist
- Watch this video profile of orthotists and prosthetists, which is located in the Health Science category.
- American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists
- American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC)
- American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA)
- National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics
- National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)