Aug 19

Prosthetics: Form vs Function

Runners at Sydney Paralympics

Amputee Runners at Sydney Paralympics

Do you think that the field of prosthetics will ever reach a stage where the design and function of a prosthesis will override the need to have said prosthesis look like the original limb? While cosmesis is undoubtedly an important consideration in the fitting of a prosthesis, are we reaching the point where it is not weighed so highly in the prescription and manufacturing process?With advances in technology, we are already seeing many amputees who forego the traditional coverings, preferring to show off the modern, high-tech look of today’s prosthetics, particularly microprocessor controlled knees. The rising profile of the Paralympics, and the publicity around Oscar Pistorius’ achievement in running in the London Olympics has contributed to this, where it is considered quite the norm to be seen with the J-curved Cheetah running prosthetics.

It is likely to still be quite a while before design and technology advances far enough for our prosthetists to be able to build a prosthetic that looks the same, and matches the extremely flexible and adaptable functional abilities of an arm or a leg. Or, will we instead bypass that stage completely, preferring to develop easily interchangeable prosthetic components that sacrifice natural looks for achieving optimal performance and efficiency in specialised tasks, outperforming their natural counterparts? The running limbs are the most obvious examples, but there are other cases where prosthetics are being developed with an eye to performance, efficiency, cost, and even art, with less regard on looking like a natural limb:

These are just a sample of the innovative designs I found with a quick Google search. It is interesting to look at what designers and engineers are coming up with. And with the current arguments over whether Oscar Pistorius’ Cheetah limbs give him an advantage or not, I wonder if we will reach a stage where there will be no argument any more.

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