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One small step for man, one giant leap for lower-limb amputees

Thought-controlled bionic technology previously only available for arms now exists for legs. The once-farfetched idea of a bionic man is becoming a reality.

In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.

In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.

The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.

[Image Source: RIC/NWU]

Amputee soldier reporting for duty, Sir!

More amputee soldiers are returning to active duty because of advancements in medicine, facilities, and especially techology.

The rate of amputee soldiers returning to active duty is at an all-time high. In the 1980s only about 2.3% of amputees returned to duty; the rate among Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is 16.5%. A lot of factors have contributed to this increase, but the most influential is unquestionably the advancement in technology. We now have centralized centers for amputee care that provide state-of-the-art custom rehabilitation, the most up-to-date prosthetic devices, and peer therapy. These centers enable wounded active duty members to rehabilitate together—interaction that is crucial for recovery. Rehabilitation is now specifically tailored to meet each Warfighter’s needs, and is geared towards the goals he or she has set for the future.

In order to return to active duty, a wounded warrior needs to obtain a final disposition of “fit for duty” from the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). To do this, he or she must demonstrate a level of function with a prosthesis that exceeds basic movement skills, such as engaging in a high-impact activity typical for an active adult or athlete - i.e., box jumps or sprints. Despite the vast advances in prostheses, rehabilitation therapists mention that it’s the warrior’s drive and motivation that returns him or her to work.

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