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Nail Art Helped Make My Prosthetic Arm a Truer Extension of Myself

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Whether experiencing limb loss congenitally, through trauma, disease, or injury, you don’t generally have a great deal of choice in the matter. So being part of the design process, even when it comes to something as seemingly small as five fingernails, helps reinstate some feeling of control. The nails are short, but I realized I could work with them. And turning them into little “gems” on this one-size-fits-all limb became one more way for me to feel more connected to the arm as a whole. It gave me a say in what the hand could be. 

Prosthetic assistant William Garcia works behind the scenes making prosthetic design wishes come to life. He believes a patient’s involvement with “decorating” their prosthesis, whatever that is to them, greatly impacts their positive relationship to the final product. “It’s important for patients to be involved in the process where we can discuss colors, how they want it to look, and how we’ll tie in functionality and aesthetics. They get excited about the design and connect more to their limb that way,” Garcia says. The nails, however, are not generally given any attention while building a functional prosthesis, he says.

The challenge with manicuring (or pedicuring) your prosthesis is that not a whole lot wants to stick to it. Garcia, who has tried numerous materials out on prosthetic nails, says that gel that cures in about 30 seconds on your real nails won’t even set after 30 minutes on a prosthetic. Regular polish runs the risk of staining the material that makes up your hand or foot shell. And acetone and removers can cause erosion over time depending on how often you want to change up your nail look. So stick-on tabs paired with press-ons are often your only option — and remain my favorite way to dress up my prosthetic nails.


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