Prosthetics have largely increased the speed of paralympian competitors over the years. Now research is looking to make them faster so that one day, they could compete on a level playing field at the Olympics.
The field of prosthetics and the developments in it have caused a revolution to occur in the area of Paralympics. Paralympian competitors can give their regular counterparts a good run for their money (literally). Scott Rearden, the fastest one-legged man in the world, is only two seconds slower than Ussain Bolt over a hundred meters.
Now, though, research is on at the University of New South Wales where the focus is on looking at ways to make the users of these prosthetic devices even faster than they are now. In doing this, the team involved in the research is not looking to re-invent the wheel – so the design of the prosthesis will remain the same – nor are they looking at the oft-focused areas of weight and strength. They’re instead looking at the behaviour of these devices in terms of how they affect the amputee’s gait when he or she is using it.
Traditional gait analysis involves passive reflective markers being placed on the shins, knee and ankle of a runner, and then being filmed and analysed to determine the torques and mechanics involved. But this relies on the person being monitored having a leg and foot, rather than a spring-like prosthetic.
In this new technique, though, the team at UNSW uses software to perform simulations that will determine whether or not the device adversely influences the wearer’s gait, and by how much. Simulations can be run by which the angle at which the device is connected to the limb can be changed by a degree or so at a time, and see how it affects the user’s gait and speed.
We hope that more work of such nature is done, and perhaps one day, paralympians could be as fast as anyone else in the world.

Divya Singh

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