New Possibilities for Amputees with Next Gen Prosthetics

New technologies let amputees run marathons, swim rough water, ski, cycle and more

All last week we heard that Monday’s devastation in Boston looked like a war zone, a comparison that holds up, sadly, when it comes to the kinds of injuries inflicted by the bombs.

At least 14 victims of the Boston Marathon bombing lost a leg, according to USA Today, and several more are at risk of losing damaged limbs, reports the Associated Press.

The prospect of returning to an active life after such an injury may seem grim, but, as several news outlets reported in the aftermath, a surge of research into prosthetics in the last decade has opened up new possibilities for amputees.

Hugh Herr, a prosthetics expert and professor at MIT—and a double-amputee himself—was especially optimistic. He told the AP that, for runners with amputations below—or perhaps even above—the knee, “it's possible they could run the marathon a year from now. It would take a lot of effort, but it's indeed possible with today's technology.”

Much of that technology owes its existence, in part, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which over 1,600 servicemen and women have lost limbs, according to the New York Times.

There are now prostheses for just about every physical activity. One prosthetic fabrication company, Amputee Prosthetics, makes “downhill skiing legs, scuba legs, running legs, cross country skiing legs, bicycling legs, hiking and climbing legs, as well as special arms for bicycling, kayaking, weightlifting, and many others,” according to its website.

In some cases, like the amphibious beach prosthetic Murr-ma, which we recently wrote about, a prosthetic can even have a slight mechanical advantage and allow the wearer to join into activities closed off to amputees only a few years ago.

“By designing Murr-ma we enable lower leg amputees to not just enjoy the beach but also to become active [Surf Life Saving] members,” wrote Murr-ma co-designer Julia Johnson in an email. “By using the missing lower leg area as the fin, Murr-ma does not just help the user[s] to take part in SLS but even gives them an advantage of being able to propel themselves forward faster than an able-bodied swimmer.”

Participating in athletic activities can help amputees recover both physically and emotionally, said executive vice president of the Wounded Warrior Project, Richard Stieglitz, to the New York Times.

“Very often doing something you never did before the injury is huge,” Stieglitz told the Times. “It teaches people that life goes on.”

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