Advancements in Prosthetics

There have been major developments in limb prosthetics thanks to technological advancements in recent decades. Now, prosthetics come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, and can endure more terrains or activities than ever before. Patients can choose from a myriad of options that can be activity-specific or even mind-controlled like real limbs! We’ll discuss some of the most common and cutting-edge prostheses available today as well as the personal and financial considerations in choosing a prosthetic that’s right for you.

Microprocessor-Controlled Joints and Artificial Intelligence

Developed in the 1990s, the microprocessor-controlled joint enables the prosthesis joint to automatically adapt to the patient’s unique needs, by monitoring their gait cycle through sensors, a microprocessor, software, a resistance system, and a battery. Each microprocessor knee is programmed to an individual’s gait. This means that a person using a prosthetic leg can over time help the device adapt to its owner’s walking patterns. This was profound, as it allowed amputees to move their prostheses intuitively and naturally.

In 2011, more advancements in AI prosthetics were released, such as the “world’s first bionic leg with robotics mechanism,” also known as the “symbionic leg,” by Ossum. The Genium X3 by Ottobock was released around the same time, and allowed backward walking in prosthetics for the first time.

Today, the Ottobock’s X3 has been further developed and is still one of the most advanced prosthetics on the market. The limb itself costs around $115,000, not including additional components such as the socket. It is designed for more intuitive walking, improved safety, custom settings, Bluetooth-compatibility, and can be monitored via the Cockpit app on an iPhone or Android smartphone. It is weatherproof, robust, and accommodates an active family life in all types of terrain or weather.

Brain-Controlled Prosthetics / Consciously Controlled Limbs

Consciously controlled limbs are when a person controls the movement and even experiences the sensation of touch through brain-controlled prosthetics. A 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on three Swedish patients who have lived, for several years, with this new technology. This groundbreaking study found that neuromusculoskeletal prosthesis is unique from any other prosthesis in history in that:

  • It has a direct connection to a person’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton.
  • It is mind-controlled and delivers sensations that are perceived by the user as arising from the missing limb.
  • It is self-contained; all electronics needed are contained within the prosthesis, so patients do not need to carry additional equipment or batteries.
  • It is safe and stable in the long term; the technology has been used without interruption by patients during their everyday activities, without supervision from the researchers, and it is not restricted to confined or controlled environments.

Brain-controlled prostheses usually run upwards of $70,000. There are companies such as BrainRobotics, however, that plan to release AI limbs in the $10,000-$15,000 range to provide a more affordable option to amputees.

3D Printing

3D printing technology, or additive manufacturing, has revolutionized the prosthetics by creating a cost-effective and quick way to provide for children and adults alike. In January 2013, a 5-year-old boy who was born without fingers on one hand was given a customizable 3D printed prosthetic hand, built for only $150 in parts. It’s expected that 3D printed limbs can help up to 30 million people worldwide who need artificial prostheses.

While 3D printing can prove to be a less costly option, the technology really benefits simpler prosthetics with basic or passive movements for both the upper and lower limbs. There are various companies and nonprofits taking advantage of 3D technology to help provide prosthetics at low costs. Non-profits, such as E-Nable will use open-source designs to produce prosthetics for thousands of adults and children in need. Startups like Unlimited Tomorrow will create a 3D TrueLimb for “as low as $7,995,” still considered a good price within prosthetics.

Other Specialty Limbs

There are other types of protheses that fall outside of the categories mentioned above. As these are mostly activity-specific, they provide an added feature of functionality that more common limbs don’t provide.

  • Backup limbs. These limbs are stand ins for when your primary limb has a malfunction or needs repair. Or, they can be used for specific activities that may risk damage to your primary (and more expensive) limb, such as housework, yardwork, and more
  • Shower legs. This limb can be simply constructed and made specifically to resist water damage. Shower legs should ensure the user stability and safety in the water, as well as when entering and exiting the tub.
  • Swim/Diving legs. These limbs are specific to swimming or diving and will have a higher plantar flexion to accommodate these movements. They should also be stable and allow walking in the water.
  • Running prostheses. Running limbs have garnered a lot of public attention because of their sophisticated design and Olympics participation. These prostheses must withstand great impact while protecting the residual limb from excessive shock.

Restoring Quality of Life Through Case Management

These recent advances are some of the most exciting in prosthetics history and demonstrate how technology is integrating interfaces between humans and machines — providing real solutions for millions of disabled people. When it comes to finding the perfect prosthesis, however, a case manager can play an essential role in helping you assess, plan, and facilitate this complex process.

Case managers are licensed healthcare professionals who understand the healthcare system and can help you navigate all aspects of amputee care, from understanding the costs, the options, and the coverage your healthcare provider gives. In collaboration with your physical therapist and/or prosthetist, your case manager can save significant time and money by create a detailed plan that fits your personal needs and goals.

Interested in learning more about our case management services? Contact us to speak with a life care planner or case manager today.