Where Do We Stand With Prosthetics?

Our limbs are wonderfully made.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH In a violent assault, a brother’s artistic hand was crushed. He thought he would never draw again. With a fist full of wires and patience, he recovered. My mother’s foot was amputated; complications following discharge resulted in her death. A close friend is currently receiving physical therapy and training with a new prosthetic following an above-knee amputation.


For any patient, news that a limb needs to be removed is met with a flood of emotions. There is denial that the procedure is necessary. This might be followed by embarrassment over perceived disfigurement. There is anxiety about how you might function. And, of course, there is pain during rehabilitation. You may also experience loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, fear of rejection from your mate. There may be questions about your body image and there are financial problems.

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Whatever the reason for performing an extremity amputation, do not view it as a treatment failure. Amputation can be the treatment of choice for severe trauma, vascular disease, and tumors. Nevertheless, you will probably go through the five psychological stages of grief. This includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You must go through this grieving process at your pace. Some people do it in a short time, while others take several months. (The Psychological Aspects of Amputation) Apprehension is heightened among athletes and artists who depend upon their limbs as an expression of their talents.

In the United States, about 30,000-40,000 occur each year. In 2005, there were an estimated 1.6 million individuals living with the loss of a limb; by 2050, this figure is expected to rise to 3.6 million.—Medscape

Chuck Close, famously known for his hyperreal portraits, was paralyzed following a rare spinal artery collapse in 1988. He adapted to painting in a different style using a brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm. Following unsuccessful attempts to save her leg, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victim Rebekah DiMartino bravely accepted amputation. “The fact that I was given a second chance at life that day is something that I will never again take for granted. "If I have to lose my leg in that process, so be it, because I’m still here.”

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Fitting children with prosthetics poses a challenge. They outgrow them twice a year. The Collective Project strives to help families cope with this dilemma by outsourcing 3D printing among a group of companies with equipment to output custom protheses. Such advancements in 3D printing are making custom-fit prosthetics more accessible.

We see numerous of prosthetic prototypes on the Internet; even if the links aren’t expired, a “Buy Now” button is conspicuously absent. Hundreds of years ago, a prosthetic leg was a peg and an artificial arm had an interchangeable hook or claw. How far have we come? What advancements are actually available today?

Beyond Regrets

There is nothing that totally replicates a lost human limb. It is difficult to tell whether first-year discomfort is part of the normal adjustment or if it stems from an ill-fitted device. Too often, the first prosthetic offered by your insurance company does not serve every purpose. You may become frustrated in your inability to complete tasks. The fault actually lie with your equipment rather than a lack of skill.

Active amputees typically use multiple prosthetics. Some are purely cosmetic while others are designed to replicate specific functions. Ironman triathlete Sarah Reinertsen and runner Aimee Mullins switch to curved blades for lower limbs during athletics. The world’s first bionic pop artist Viktoria Modesta is a Latvian singer-songwriter and model with custom prosthetic legs prominently featured in her music videos. Amy Purdy is an double-amputee American actress, model, world-class snowboarder and 2014 Paralympic bronze medalist who performed on Dancing with the Stars wearing en pointe limbs. She also danced the cha-cha during the opening ceremony for Rio 2016 Paralympic Games with blade prosthetics.

Prosthetics for Mobility

Standard options may suffice for moving around your house. Here are some prosthetics that enable you to participate in activities beyond the front door.

  • Ottobock sells a variety of prosthetics for everything from a walk along the beach to a vigorous workout.

  • Amputee Bade Runners was founded by two prosthetists, with the idea that giving someone one piece of equipment could change their life. Amputees who are at least one year post-fitting from their first prosthesis may apply for a running blade grant if they agree to complete (not run) three 5Ks (adult) or one 1-mile fun run (child).

Reality Sets In

In many social settings, a running blade prosthetic is inappropriate. Women may wish to wear a skirt that does not sweep the floor or wear sandals that expose their feet. Mechanical hands help with many tasks but for formal outings there may be a desire to attract less attention than Tony Stark.

  • The Alternative Limb Project produces a number of products. Included in their lineup are stylish prosthetic housings. They also currently make the most realistic looking non-functional cosmetic prosthetics.

  • Stamos+Braun Prothesenwerk GmbH company in conjunction with a team at Stanford University has created an artificial “skin” so lifelike that it can stretch, bend, and translate nervelike signals directly to the brain. When you lose an arm or a leg, you lose more than just the physical limb: You lose your sense of touch. The researchers, led by chemical engineer Zhenan Bao, published their work of large-area organic electronic skins with neural-integrated touch feedback for replacement limbs in the October 2015 journal Science. Withn the coming years, neural interfaces offer the promise of controlling limbs with your mind.

Where Do We Stand With Prosthetics?

Unlike traditional devices, the emPOWER Ankle is the only lower limb prosthesis with powered propulsion that emulates lost muscles and mimics normal ankle movement for a natural stride. —Bionx Med

Ready To Roll

Whether you need to travel a mile or a much longer distance, walking or running may not be practical options. Did not know there are wheelchairs designed for sports like basketball and tennis? Standard insurance may cover the purchase of motorized wheelchairs. Here are some options for the more actively inclined.

  • Top End Chairs is a U.S. company that offers everything from everyday wheelchairs to models in excess of $3000 designed for competitive sports.
  • Wolturnus in Denmark and Germany manufactures world-class wheelchairs and handbikes that become an extension of the body.
  • Motivation Sports in the UK specializes in low-cost sports wheelchairs.
  • Mobility Works sells new and used truck and van conversions with wheelchair accessibility in the U.S.
  • Wheelers offers rentable wheelchair-accessible vans in 28 states across America.
TED Talk: New Bionics Let Us Run, Climb And Dance
Hugh Herr, American rock climber, engineer, and biophysicist

In the race for more natural solutions, prosthetics need not resemble the ill-fitted mannequin-like appendages of the 1940s. As technology converges with fashion and form follows function, 3D printing is allowing prosthetics to become more personable. New bionics let us run, climb and dance. This improved outlook makes us feel A Bit More Healthy. Follow the ClinicalPosters Steel Life Pinterest board for links to the latest advancements.

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Tags: androids, biom, disability, exoskeleton, handicap, lower extremities, technology