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This Prosthetic Leg with Sensory Feedback Can Improve Mobility 

Posted by Bryan Potok, CPO on

Would you wear a prosthetic leg that provides sensory feedback? If yes, you may only need to wait a few more years. A breakthrough bionic prosthetic leg was unveiled on September 9 by researchers from Switzerland’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The artificial limb makes it possible for above-the-knee (AK) amputees to “feel” their leg, which results in greater stamina, stability, and mobility.

 An above-knee amputee wears a new prosthetic leg that provides sensory feedback and improves stability.

Image courtesy of AFP.

This ability to feel is made possible by surgically connecting sensors on a mechanical limb to nerve endings in the thighs, via electrode implants. Scientists from the University of Freiburg developed the electrodes while the prosthesis was from prosthetic manufacturer Össur. The researchers tested the device on two volunteers, both above-knee amputees.

Taking cues from neural feedback

The inspiration for this new prosthetic leg is the feedback loop that occurs between a biological leg and the brain. Nerves in the feet and legs relay a steady stream of electrical impulses to the brain. This feedback allows the brain to make instant adjustments to prevent falling on a steep slope or prevent leg fatigue by changing the amount of force.

In contrast, prosthetic users today don’t have that feedback loop, which makes it difficult to walk steadily. With the current prosthetic technology, prosthetic users resort to relying on their sound side leg, which causes them to tire faster.

To restore that feedback loop, researchers placed sensors under the soles of the prosthetic foot as well as around the joint of an electronic knee. Meanwhile, doctors surgically implanted electrodes into the volunteers’ thighs, which took the place of the nerve endings that had once sent and received messages from the amputated leg.

Better mobility, reduced phantom pain

Within three months, volunteers were able to test their bionic prosthesis. Both agreed that the machine allowed them to adjust their gait when walking. This was tested as they walked over sand, an uneven and soft surface. They also said that the leg allowed them to walk considerably faster than on a regular modern prosthesis.

Another takeaway was that the bionic leg reduces or removes phantom pain. One of the volunteers usually feels pain on a phantom big toe, heel, ankle, and calf. This pain can be strong enough to wake him up at night. However, since he started testing the leg, he said he doesn’t feel any phantom pain at all.

The possible explanation for this phenomenon is that the sensors and electrodes—which are connected by wires that pass through the skin—partially restored the feedback loop. The stochastic entanglement theory explains how an interrupted feedback loop can result in phantom limb pain.

More tests required

According to the researchers, they still need to conduct more tests over an extended period before the technology could be made available to the market. The next step for this research is to develop a fully implantable system with wireless neuro-stimulation, which will eliminate the need for wires to pass through the skin.

Within the next four years, the researchers plan to hold large-scale clinical trials with neuroprosthetics company SensArs. 

What are your thoughts on this breakthrough research? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
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  • Although this all sounds great we as amputees need a socket that you can put you stump in and it feels like Heaven like like you’re walking around in a brick all day and exhausted by the end of the day?
    The soft socket was a great invention but still not natural.
    Maybe a lambs wool inner liner with a pin to hold you in?
    I’m not a prosthetic maker so I don’t know what would work I only know what I which, and I wish there was something more natural and more comfortable…

    Joe Leming on

  • Yes! I am a bilateral above knee amputee. It has been just over a year and am about to get my first set of prosthetics thanks to funding. I know learning to walk again at 60 years old isn’t going to be easy, so I very much look forward to Sensory Feedback as I grow in age! So happy there are people out there that continually improve prosthetics! Many thanks!
    And yes if you need people for a trial I’m ready!

    Anita Navarro on

  • As a bacteriologist, I am a bit worried about the implants. But if it gets rid of phantom pain, sign me up for a trial (or a purchase).

    Judith Bronson on

  • I lost my leg last summer (aka) and the prosethisc usage has not gone smoothly. Bone spur has now developed about an inch above the end of the femur.
    This sounds awesome and hope I can give it a try
    I do also have terrible phantom pain problems that wake me up through out the night. Good going guys, I know you be successful.

    Mike Sofge on

  • 16 years ago I became a KKA I recalled my training wheels was hard remembering point toe kick extend land on heel technic , I know every little bit helps , now that someone stole my legs I will want to try this new and improved ones ..

    Louie Simental on

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