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Materials in sport - Prosthetic limbs

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Materials in sport - Prosthetic limbs Intro Competition amongst paralympians is no less fierce than that experienced by their able bodied compatriots, with competitors producing athletic performances that are truly inspiring. The current world record for the 100 metre sprint by an amputee athlete is 11.03 seconds, only about a second slower than the fastest Olympic sprinters. What makes this possible? A brief history of the 'non-intelligent' artificial leg: Before intelligent prosthetics had been developed, and all that was available was the original artificial leg, the material being used for the leg frame was mainly wood with the socket made from reinforced leather. In the 1950's and 60's laminated and reinforced plastics were used for sockets with fibre glass materials for the rest of the leg. These rigid plastic sockets however are generally no longer in use as they are uncomfortable and do not respond to each specific need of the patient. Researchers such as Tom Guth, chief research prosthetist at the RGP Prosthetic Research Centre, in San Diego, California, therefore tried to develop semi-flexible thermoplastic sockets as well as rubber and silicone ones, instead of the older rock hard laminated material, for patients with above the knee amputation. ...read more.


Finally the mould is made with the information saved on the computer so that the patient can reorder the same prosthesis or one with slight alterations, without the need to be refitted. This system is also time efficient, consistent and very accurate. Design of Prosthetic Limbs The process of designing a prosthetic limb is a complex one. Consider the case of an athlete with a below knee amputation. The remaining stump is often very tender, and is composed of a variety of tissue types, some of which are pressure sensitive and some of which are pressure tolerant. The prosthetic practitioner fitting the athlete with the limb begins by designing a hard socket that supports the limb under the stump's pressure tolerant areas. These hard sockets are made from polypropylene or woven carbon fibre composite materials. To provide protection for the pressure sensitive tissue a soft silicone rubber liner is worn over the stump, and together the hard and soft socket combination provides comfortable support for the athlete. ...read more.


These materials are also used because they enable such a high degree of design flexibility. Varying the degree of fibre orientation in the foot varies the bending stiffness, which is fundamentally important given the variation in mass of the competing athletes. The bending stiffness of a given foot can now be tailored to ensure that the loading is elastic and that energy storage is maximised. The Future The future of prosthetic limb technology is exciting, and may lie particularly in the area of osteointegration, in which the prosthetic device is fixed directly to the bone via a titanium implant. This technology is not without difficulties. The fact that the prosthetic limb is connected to the bone means that the skin does not form a continuous surface over the area of the limb and bone fixing, increasing the potential threat of infection and subsequent illness. However, if the problem of infection is solved then we could see Paralympic athletes competing alongside their Olympic counterparts. Primary author: Dr. Mike Jenkins Source: Materials World, vol. 8, p. 11, September 2000 ...read more.

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