Much to the chagrin of many amputees, there is not a "one leg fits all" prosthetic that meets the needs of every amputee. Different activity levels put unique strains on the components required for the prosthetic. Those who are involved in sports have different prosthetic requirements than the casual walker.
The K-Level system was devised by Medicare as an attempt to classify prosthetic components according to the patient population. Patients are assigned a K-Level, typically by their prosthetist, which is used as a guideline when choosing prosthetic components (i.e. feet or knees). An amputee's K-Level is designed to be fluid, meaning that an individual may move through a variety of K-Levels throughout his life.
Those with a K-O classification are not ambulatory. These amputees do not have the ability or the potential to walk. It is determined that a prosthetic will not enhance the independence or the life of these individuals.
K-1 amputees may benefit from a prosthetic to assist in transferring (such as from a wheelchair to a fixed chair). These individuals also have the potential to walk, albeit in a limited capacity, within their home or for short distances. Walking at various speeds and maneuvering around environmental obstacles is not deemed feasible.
K-2 amputees are considered community walkers. These individuals can accommodate for "low level" environmental obstacles including curbs, bumps and sidewalk cracks. They can walk for limited periods of time but cannot typically vary their walking speed.
If amputees have the ability to vary their speed and can traverse through a variety of environmental obstacles, they are considered to be a K-3. These individuals can walk through a variety of environments (grass, rocks, hills, sand etc.) without difficulty. The prosthetic is used for recreational and moderate exercise activities.
K-4 amputees rely upon their prosthetic to complete high impact activities such as running and jumping. Many children, active adults and athletes fall into this category.
The term "potential" was included in each K-Level description, providing the practitioner with a great deal of flexibility when assigning patient levels. In the following weeks we will be comparing prosthetic components in this blog. Since components are classified according to K-Levels we wanted to provide some background information.