Every year, scientists and engineers find new ways to deliver prosthetic advancements that improve the lives of more and more amputees. This year, there are a number of exciting new technologies that look promising. These are the top five we’re watching:
1. The BIONX Empower ankle. We have had the pleasure of seeing this next generation design of the BiOM Ankle for amputees firsthand when a patient did a trial and our BIONX rep was here educating us on the new prosthesis. For moderately active amputees with above- or below-the-knee amputations, the emPOWER ankle provides power, stability and control that normalizes the walking gait and gives you confidence over any surface. The most advanced powered ankle BIONX offers, the emPOWER features a number dramatic improvements over previous foot and ankle prostheses, including improved battery run time, integrated battery design that looks and feels less bulky and enhanced power delivery that feels more life-like at any speed.
2. The new PROflex ankle. This new prosthesis uses a unique system of carbon fiber springs and a posterior strut to deliver the feel of a powered foot and ankle system without the weight or inconvenient recharging requirements of a battery. A radical change from the standard carbon fiber prosthetic foot on the market today, it delivers 93% more ankle power for amputees. It comes from Ossur, a leader in the prosthetic field with a history of innovation.
3. Microprocessor knees. MPKs, as these prostheses are called, have exploded onto the scene since the first one debuted in 1999. Today, there are numerous manufacturers offering MPKs, including Ottobock, Endolite, Ossur and Freedom Innovations. A typical MPK integrates a microprocessor, software, sensors, battery and a resistance system -- either hydraulic or pneumatic -- to give amputees greater mobility and control over different terrains and at different speeds. As a result, they reduce an amputee’s risk of injury from falls and improve overall health and well-being.
4. The addition of sensation in prostheses. For the last several years, advances in technology have been showing great promise for helping both lower extremity and upper extremity amputees use their minds to control their prostheses. The most recent breakthroughs, from DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics, promise not just control, but sensation, allowing amputees to both manipulate objects through their prosthetic devices with signals from their brain and sense precisely what those devices are touching. This one’s a potential game-changer for amputees because it closes the neural feedback loop, and we’re keeping an eye on it.
5. Osseointegration. With the Food and Drug Administration’s 2015 approval of Integrum’s Osseoanchored Prostheses for the Rehabilitation of Amputees (OPRA) device, amputee patients gained an alternative to traditional sockets. Patients who have undergone osseointegration have a prosthesis connected directly to their residual limb via titanium implants inside their bones. While it offers a possible solution to socket discomfort, it is not for all patients and does carry increased risk for infection and bone fractures if the patient has a bad fall. Still, the technology is promising and is providing amputees with additional options to consider.