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The Future of Prosthetics

The future of technology in prosthetics is exciting and invigorating. Automated fabrication of devices will continue to evolve . Techniques to improve the accuracy, reproducibility, and simplicity of the alignment process are being introduced and refined. New materials that can change their shape and material characteristics in response to sensory input will allow sockets that can adjust to the physiologic changes in the residual limb with walking and muscle activity. Sockets could adjust to the volume changes that occur throughout a day or with physical activity. Sockets may be able to automatically adjust to the changes that occur more slowly, such as with alteration in body weight, muscle hypertrophy, or muscle atrophy. Direct skeletal attachment of prosthetic devices is also being reported from the work in Gothenburg Sweden, and the University of Surrey, England.

Components that adapt better to walking or running situations especially, and that can adapt to surfaces that are not level are being made to adjust their position, resistance, and function range of motion that it is able to perform. Microprocessor control can allow the components to respond and change automatically. Adding muscle, force, and motor control into the prosthesis will help restore the muscular function lost in amputation. The advances of elastic response materials and designs that deform slightly under the loads of walking do give a bit of spring or kickback to the amputee, as the weight is unloaded off the prosthesis. Amputees received these prosthetic components with tremendous enthusiasm, but this function is still not the same as active muscle function. Knee units for thigh-level amputees are still quite primitive. Although microchip technology has been refined and advanced the way the pendulum swings (by slowing or assisting the pendulum motion), they do not replace the quadriceps or hamstring muscles, on a downside. Cleaver design and technology can minimize buckling of the knee unit and can make the prosthesis safer and more stable, even when loaded in a bent-knee position. However, the current devices do not yet truly help power the amputee from the sitting to the standing position or elevate the body weight up onto the next step.

Advanced technology has improved the design, comfort, fabrication, and alignment of prosthetic devices. Individuals with limb loss have benefited greatly from all the advances to date, but much more can and will be done.