YOUR HEALTH: Brain powered prosthetic ankle brings balance to amputees

More than two million Americans are living with limb loss.
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 5:35 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 28, 2022 at 6:52 AM CST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – More than two million Americans are living with limb loss. Prosthetics are a solution – helping with mobility and some function – but in most cases, the artificial limbs may be fixed. That means the wearer’s movements aren’t natural and may be uncomfortable. Now, scientists are testing powered prosthetic ankles that may be game-changing for amputees.

Fifty-five-year-old Greg Phillips was on his way home on Labor Day 2013, when a car pulled out in front of his motorcycle.

“It was called a compression fracture in which the foot was crushed between an 850-pound motorcycle and the rear axle of a car,” Phillips recalls.

After two years fighting infection and instability, Phillips and his doctors agreed to amputate.

But traditional prosthetics also require the wearer to compensate with their hips or back.

Biomedical engineer at North Carolina State University & University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Helen Huang, PhD, says, “It doesn’t provide power, doesn’t provide enough range of motion.”

In a lab at North Carolina State University, biomedical engineers are studying how these prosthetic ankles can restore more natural movement.

“The difference of our prosthesis is that we’re actually giving control to people by using the muscle signals that are still there, even after amputation,” biomedical engineer at NC State University & UNC Chapel Hill, Aaron Fleming, explains.

Fleming attaches sensors to track Phillips’ calf muscles. With the device on, Phillips can stand up from a chair without using his arms. He can walk with a fluid motion, and bend to pick up objects.

While the powered ankle isn’t commercially available yet, Greg Phillips says he’d like to have one someday.

The researchers say before the technology could be made more widely available, it would be important to test the prosthetics in real-world settings as they go through their daily routines. That would help the scientists assess the reliability of the devices.

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