One bionic step into the future

by RYAN ATKINSON

Ryan Atkinson looks into recent advances in prosthetic limb development

“Igo running, but it’s difficult. The prosthetic that I wear sometimes works against me, making me lose momentum.”

Anthony Clark, 31, was born without the lower half of his left leg. For him and many others who are missing limbs or have a disability, it can be difficult to participate in sports as the prosthetics they use are not designed for physical activity.

In London there are numerous charities, universities and companies developing technology to be used in sports equipment and prosthetics, which will allow the user to play sports more effectively.

Paralympic Games, Rio 2016
Track Athlete, David Weir, 800m T54 – Men, from Wallington, Surrey, competing for ParalympicsGB at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. Photo by onEdition

Colin Smith of Imperial College London’s Bioengineering Department, is positive about the advancements being made.

“We have been working with the gold medal-winning Paralympian cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth on new technology that will give him a competitive edge,” he said.

“We have been developing a bicycle that has been specially designed so that the rider can either place the handlebar in a stand-up or sit-down position.”

With advancements comes the risk of cheating in para athletic sports, such as the controversy over the length of running blades that occurred during the London 2012 Paralympics. 

Paralympic Games, Rio 2016
Track athlete Richard Whitehead, 100m T42 – Men, from Nottingham, wins a silver medal competing for ParalympicsGB at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. Photo by onEdition

Other advancements made at Imperial College include a prosthetic arm that can detect spinal nerve signals and translate this information into a range of movements.

Smith added that it is more difficult to develop technology to aid those who have disabilities above the waist.

Belinda Smart who works for The London Prosthetic Centre, explained the difficulties of developing such prosthetics:

“Upper limb prosthetics are not as easy to replicate as lower limb prosthetics and have not advanced as well due to the intricacies of the limited hand movements, lack of sensation and many other aspects.

“There are two manufacturers in upper limb prosthetics who have manufactured a hand that can perform several functions, enabling people to ride a bicycle, pick up weights and undertake a few other sporting activities.”

Paralympic Games, Rio 2016
Track athlete Jade Jones, 800m T54 – Womens, from Middlesborough, competing for ParalympicsGB at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. Photo by onEdition

Andy Brittles, the national sports development officer for Limb Power, a disability charity that arranges sporting events, lauded recent advancements for those who have disabilities in the lower half of the body.

“It’s changed a lot, especially for below- and above-the-knee amputees. The prosthetics have given them the tools to play sports,” he said.

Limb Power will be hosting a multisport event later this month in Twickenham, allowing amputees and those with limb impairments to participate in sports in a relaxed environment.

Many of the recent advancements will be on show during the World Para Athletics Championships that will be held in London next month, between 14 and 23 July.

As advancements continue to change the landscape of para athletic sports, those who are missing limbs or have disabilities will have greater opportunity to participate in sports and physical activity.

Paralympic Games, Rio 2016
Track athlete Sophie Kamlish from London and Laura Sugar from Cambridge, 100m T44 – Women, from London, competing for ParalympicsGB at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. Photo by onEdition

Featured photo: track athlete Samantha Kinghorn, 800m T53 – Women, from Melrose, competing for Paralympics GB at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. Photo by onEdition