The best time for an amputee to be fitted with an artificial limb is within a month after the injuries have healed, and it should not be more than three months afterwards, an expert says. But if all 1,000 patients who lost limbs in the Sichuan earthquake are to receive replacements by the end of the year, 20 to 30 prosthetists will be required, the doctor in charge of Sichuan's prosthesis project says. Wong Man-sang of the Polytechnic University's department of health technology and informatics said artificial limbs would be less effective if not fitted within three months after amputations. 'Their muscles' balancing ability would degenerate, causing contracture to the joints, meaning the stump would bend and make walking a much more difficult task,' he said. But Professor Wong said mainland patients usually waited six months after recovery for a new limb. 'I don't know if cost is one of their concerns as patients need to replace their first artificial limb after three months,' he said. Limbs made shortly after an amputation must be replaced by a permanent one as the muscles continue to shrink during the first few months. So why not wait until the muscle is stabilised before installing a limb? 'Patients' motivation is an important concern,' Professor Wong said. 'When one adapts to life in a wheelchair, he gets lazy and scared to learn to walk again, not to mention that the installations won't work as well.' Kwan Hung-hei from the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics said Hong Kong prosthetists planned to educate mainland counterparts on these concepts. 'Our mainland partners tend to think prosthesis is not a timely matter, everything can wait unless it's life-threatening,' Mr Kwan said.