Distinguishing between orthotics and prosthetics can be tricky for many. While professionals can quickly identify the need for either, patients often struggle due to their unfamiliarity. This is understandable, considering the overlapping roles these devices play in improving mobility and enhancing quality of life.

In this guide, we hope to provide some clarity. We will answer the question of what is the difference between orthotics and prosthetics, discuss their similarities, and offer insight into the unique types, uses, and functions of each to help you better determine if an orthotic or prosthetic is best for you and which doctor you should see.

What are Orthotics?

Orthotics, such as braces, are specialized medical devices tailored to correct alignment, alleviate pain, and provide additional support to various body parts. They can help correct alignment, reduce inflammation, and enhance the overall function of different parts of the body, primarily focusing on the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine.

Healthcare professionals, including physicians, podiatrists, and physical therapists, often prescribe orthotics to address specific needs and optimize a person’s overall well-being.

Whether custom-made or readily available off-the-shelf, orthotic devices are an excellent way to improve mobility, alleviate discomfort, and restore balance.

Types of Orthotics

Orthotics come in various forms to suit different needs. They can include shoe inserts, braces, splints, or even specially designed footwear. Each type of orthotic serves a unique purpose, ranging from providing arch support to correcting foot alignment or stabilizing injured joints.

Shoe inserts, for example, are versatile and can be used to cushion the feet, redistribute pressure, or provide additional support for specific areas. Braces and splints, on the other hand, are often used to immobilize injured joints or correct alignment issues, offering stability and promoting proper healing.

Specially designed footwear, such as orthopedic shoes, are customized to accommodate specific foot shapes or address particular conditions, ensuring optimal comfort and functionality for the wearer.

Uses for Orthotics

Orthotics commonly address various issues, including plantar fasciitis, flat feet, bunions, arthritis, and sports injuries. They can also help alleviate pain and discomfort associated with conditions such as tendonitis, shin splints, and back pain.

Orthotics are commonly used to address a wide range of issues, including:

  • Plantar fasciitis and other foot-related conditions resulting from prolonged standing or walking.
  • Flat feet or fallen arches, which can lead to discomfort and instability while standing or walking.
  • Bunions and other foot deformities that cause pain and difficulty wearing regular shoes.
  • Arthritis, particularly in the feet, ankles, and knees, where orthotics can provide support and reduce joint strain.
  • Sports injuries, such as ankle sprains, shin splints, and stress fractures, where orthotics can aid in recovery and prevent further injury.
  • Scoliosis, where a back brace can help correct spinal curvature and provide support for the spine.

In addition to addressing specific medical conditions, orthotics can also:

  • Alleviate pain and discomfort associated with tendonitis, shin splints, and back pain, enabling individuals to move more comfortably and efficiently.
  • Provide support and stability during activities such as walking, running, or participating in sports, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing performance.
  • Assist in post-surgical or rehabilitative care, aiding in the healing process and promoting a smoother recovery.

Whether used for everyday comfort, injury prevention, or rehabilitation, orthotics can help enhance the overall well-being and quality of life for people of all ages.

What are Prosthetics?

Prosthetics are artificial limbs and devices designed to replace missing limbs, such as hands, feet, legs, arms, or other essential body components, to help individuals regain functionality and independence.

More than just a physical replacement, these individually crafted prosthetic solutions help restore both the function and appearance of the missing body part, empowering those with missing limbs to regain independence, perform daily activities with ease, and enhance their overall quality of life.

Prosthetics, whether functional, cosmetic, or a combination of both, are custom-tailored to meet each person’s unique needs and preferences, granting them the freedom to move and live without limitations.

Types of Prosthetics

Prosthetics come in various types, each designed to address specific needs and preferences. There are upper limb prosthetics, which replace missing arms, hands, or fingers, and lower limb prosthetics, which replace missing legs, feet, or toes.

Within these categories, prosthetics can vary in complexity and functionality, ranging from standard models that provide basic mobility to advanced designs with articulating joints and responsive technologies.

Additionally, there are specialized prosthetics for specific activities, such as sports or recreational activities, as well as cosmetic prosthetics that are designed to closely resemble natural body parts, enhancing the wearer’s confidence and self-image.

Uses for Prosthetics

Prosthetics are commonly used by individuals who have experienced limb loss due to trauma, disease, or congenital conditions. They can help individuals regain mobility, perform daily activities, and participate in various activities such as walking, running, or even playing sports.

Prosthetics can also aid in maintaining balance and stability, reducing the risk of falls and injuries. Furthermore, prosthetics can have psychological benefits, helping individuals feel more confident and self-assured in their appearance and abilities.

Prosthetics are commonly used by individuals who have experienced limb loss due to various circumstances, including:

  • Loss of limb due to complications from diabetes or vascular disease.
  • Amputation resulting from traumatic injuries, such as those sustained in car accidents or workplace incidents.
  • Congenital conditions, such as limb deformities, present at birth.
  • Surgical interventions to remove tumors or manage cancerous growths.
  • Severe infections or medical complications necessitating limb removal.
  • Military service-related injuries resulting in limb loss.

If you are considering a prosthesis, modern technological advancements have made it possible to achieve remarkable levels of functionality, comfort, and aesthetics.

Similarities Between Orthotics and Prosthetics

Both orthotics and prosthetics are designed to improve the quality of life for individuals with specific needs or conditions. They share several similarities in terms of their function, purpose, and overall impact on the lives of their users.

Some key similarities between orthotics and prosthetics include:

Improve Quality of Life

Both orthotics and prosthetics aim to improve the mobility and functionality of individuals by providing support, stability, and assistance in performing daily activities.


Both orthotics and prosthetics can be customized to meet each user’s unique needs and preferences, ensuring optimal comfort, functionality, and effectiveness. Additionally, they can be made from a wide range of materials, such as plastics, metals, and carbon fiber.

Require Professional Guidance

Both orthotics and prosthetics are typically prescribed by healthcare professionals, such as physicians, podiatrists, or prosthetists. These professionals assess the individual’s specific needs and recommend the appropriate device or solution.

Additionally, you will need to be fitted for both. Adjustments and maintenance are also required for both orthotics and prosthetics to ensure optimal function and comfort.


Orthotics and prosthetics are designed to be durable and long-lasting, providing reliable support and functionality over extended periods. Regular adjustments and maintenance ensure optimal performance and comfort for the wearer.

Differences Between Orthotics and Prosthetics

While orthotics and prosthetics share similar goals and functions, such as enhanced movement and improved quality of life, they serve different purposes. They cater to different patient populations, are distinct in terms of their design, and differ in the conditions they address.Some key differences between orthotics and prosthetics include:


Orthotics focus on supporting and enhancing the function of existing body parts, such as the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine. In contrast, prosthetics are designed to replace missing body parts like limbs, hands, feet, or other essential body components.


Orthotics are primarily used to alleviate pain, correct alignment issues, and improve mobility in individuals with conditions such as plantar fasciitis, flat feet, or arthritis, while prosthetics are used to restore functionality and appearance in individuals who have experienced limb loss due to trauma, disease, or congenital conditions.

Duration of Use

Orthotics are typically designed for temporary use to address specific issues or conditions, such as acute injuries, post-surgery rehabilitation, or temporary support during recovery. However, in some cases, orthotics may also be prescribed for long-term use to manage chronic conditions such as arthritis or structural abnormalities.

In contrast, prosthetics are usually intended for permanent use. This is because prosthetics are designed to replace missing body parts permanently, allowing individuals to regain function and mobility for the rest of their lives. Once properly fitted and adjusted, prosthetic devices become an integral part of the individual’s daily life, providing essential support and enabling them to perform activities with greater independence and confidence.

Type of Device

Orthotics are often worn inside shoes or as braces, inserts, or splints, while prosthetics are custom-made artificial limbs or devices that are attached to the body to replace missing limbs or body parts.

Manufacturing Process

Orthotics involves evaluating the patient’s needs, designing a custom device, creating a mold, and fabricating the device using materials like plastic, carbon fiber, or metal.

There are different methods for manufacturing prosthetics. The process typically begins with creating a negative cast of the missing limb or body, followed by producing a positive mold. The final prosthetic device is then meticulously crafted from carbon fiber or plastic materials and precisely tailored to the patient’s anatomy.

The Type of Specialist You Will See

While both fields involve crafting custom-made devices to enhance patient mobility and function, orthotics and prosthetics cater to distinct patient demographics and target different body areas.

Orthotists primarily assist patients with musculoskeletal or neurological disorders, providing devices tailored to support and improve existing body parts. Conversely, prosthetists specialize in aiding individuals who have lost limbs or body parts, creating artificial replacements to restore function and appearance.

When You Should Contact an Orthotist or Prosthetist

Whether you want a prosthetic device due to limb loss, need a custom brace, or seek a second opinion on your treatment approach, consulting with a knowledgeable orthotist or prosthetist can provide invaluable assistance and support.

You should see an orthotist if you have conditions like plantar fasciitis, flat feet, or arthritis, or you’ve sustained injuries during sports activities and are experiencing discomfort or instability in your feet, ankles, knees, hips, or spine, you might want to see an orthotist.

Orthotists are trained to provide specialized support and assistance. They can suggest a device that offers relief and helps improve mobility.

If you have lost a limb due to trauma, disease, or congenital conditions or are faced with the potential of losing a limb due to a condition such as diabetes, you should see a prosthetist. 

Prosthetists specialize in creating artificial limbs or devices tailored to your specific needs, enabling you to regain functionality and independence.

Whether you’ve lost a limb in an accident, due to medical reasons like vascular disease or diabetes, or from a congenital condition, prosthetists can provide guidance on prosthetic options and assist you in adapting to life with a prosthetic limb.

By seeking the expertise of orthotists or prosthetists at the earliest sign of a problem, you can get ahead of any potential complications, mitigate risks, and access the specialized care and support needed to enhance your mobility, comfort, and overall quality of life.

Prosthetics Services in Nashville and Middle Tennessee

Understanding the distinctions between orthotics and prosthetics reveals that while they share similarities, they serve unique purposes and necessitate specialized care.

Orthotics primarily focus on supporting and enhancing the function of existing body parts, such as the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine, aiming to alleviate pain and improve mobility in conditions like plantar fasciitis or arthritis.

On the other hand, prosthetics are designed to replace missing body parts, such as limbs, hands, or feet, offering individuals who have experienced limb loss the opportunity to regain functionality and appearance.

At The Surgical Clinic, we specialize in a range of surgical procedures. Our areas of specialization encompass General Surgery, Breast Surgery, Bariatric Surgery, Cancer Surgery, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Advanced Wound Care, Vascular and endovascular Surgery, and Vein Surgery.

Additionally, we have established Ultrasound and Vascular Laboratories, as well as Prosthetics and Podiatry departments, to ensure comprehensive care for our patients.

At TSC Prosthetics, we offer comprehensive care that integrates surgical expertise with advanced prosthetic solutions. Our approach involves close collaboration between specialized vascular surgeons and prosthetic fitting specialists, resulting in innovative advancements in both surgery and prosthetics. With a focus on personalized care and state-of-the-art prosthetic solutions, we are committed to helping individuals regain mobility and quality of life.

We have multiple offices throughout Middle Tennessee, making it easy for you to see a certified prosthetist near you. We even have a mobile lab, allowing us to come to you for prosthetic modifications.

If you or someone you love is facing the need for an amputation or requires a prosthetic device, we will guide you from start to finish in adapting to life with a new limb. Our team is here to provide specialized care tailored to your needs, ensuring that you receive the best possible outcome.

For top-notch prosthetic care, reach out to one of our Middle Tennessee offices to learn more about our prosthetic services.