The cost of a prosthetic leg will typically depend on several different factors, only some of which are under the control of the person receiving the limb. The type of amputation is a major factor because lower leg prostheses generally cost much less than artificial legs that require knees. The biggest variations in price usually are found in above-knee prostheses because of the different mechanisms used to create a bending knee. Cosmetic considerations in how the leg will look affect the types of materials used, which will also affect the final cost.
A transtibial amputation, or loss of the leg somewhere below the knee, will require a much smaller prosthesis than a transfemoral amputation, or loss of leg above the knee. Fewer materials will be used and no knee joint is necessary, so the cost is usually lower. If materials are used to form the prosthesis into a leg-like shape and give it the appearance of skin tone, the cost will usually be higher than one that is purely functional.
Sometimes an artificial leg is simply a post with an artificial foot attached, with no attempt to make it appear like a leg. These models usually cost less, unless the leg is specially made for sports, running or another specific purpose. When the amputation is above the knee, the cost of a prosthetic leg may be much higher, even if the leg looks metallic and mechanical; the higher cost is due to the cost of the knee joint.
There are a variety of different types and price ranges of knee joints that will affect the cost of a prosthetic leg as well. It is not uncommon for someone who has just lost a leg to start out with the least expensive type of knee, known as a polycentric or mechanical knee. This joint is a simple one that must be operated manually by kicking the leg forward and putting the foot down to lock the joint. Once the leg is secured in a straight position, a step can be taken.
The cost of a prosthetic leg with a hydraulic knee will generally be higher than those with a mechanical knee. The hydraulic movement allows a slightly more natural gait, and requires a little less effort to extend the knee when taking a step. A slower, more fluid movement is a big benefit often gained with the extra cost.
The most expensive type of artificial leg is typically one that contains an electronic knee. These are almost always battery operated and use a microprocessor to produce the most natural gait once the user becomes accustomed to the movement. These knees can help people perform such activities as lowering into a chair slowly, fast walking, walking on hills and other activities that can be more difficult with less expensive knees. They are also usually the most expensive to maintain and repair because of the small electronic components.
The cost of a prosthetic leg that is designed for a special purpose is usually the highest. Special legs and feet are options now for people who want to do such things as jog or run. The wear and tear on an artificial limb, especially one with a knee, can be extreme in these situations. That is why a special prosthetic designed just for those types of activities is often recommended in addition to one that would be worn on a daily basis.