Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month: A look at the recent innovation in prosthetics
By Ellie Walker, a medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell
April is Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month; a time to recognise those living with limb loss and raise awareness for limb loss prevention.
In light of this, it's important to reflect on the recent technological advances and innovation in prosthetic devices. Successful prosthetic limbs play an important role in rehabilitation and for many users a prosthetic limb assists with mobility, independence and activity.
The NHS has 35 specialist rehabilitation services in the UK that provide prosthetic services and it's estimated that there are 55,000 to 60,000 patients with an amputation or congenital limb difference attending these centres.
The NHS spends approximately £60 million per year on these services but there remains a wide variation in the prosthetics available via the NHS and some of the newer, more advanced prosthetics are only available through private funding.
Advancements in design and technology
The development of 3D printing has improved the manufacturing process of prosthetic limbs and allowed new designs and projects to come to the forefront that may previously have been too time-consuming to manufacture.
This technology is typically cheaper than traditional manufacturing techniques, enabling complex prosthetics to be manufactured at a lower cost.
Not only has the manufacturing process improved, the design of prosthetic limbs has improved exponentially.
In recent years, Open Bionics has engineered and manufactured ‘The Hero Arm’, utilising modern technology to create a prosthetic that incorporates special sensors that detect muscle movement allowing the user to control the prosthetic limb with life-like precision and dexterity.
Manufacturers have also incorporated motors and sensors into lower limb prosthetics, to mimic the way the muscles and ligaments in the ankle and the knee work, improving the gait and control the user has over the prosthesis.
There has also been a development in surgical approaches to prosthetics and an increase in the practice of osteointegration – a surgical process where a titanium connection point is surgically fitted to the bone of a residual limb to which a prosthetic limb can then be attached. It creates a direct skeletal connection between the prosthesis and the patient’s residual limb to provide users with a more intimate connection to their prosthesis and a more natural feel to the movements they make, compared to the traditional socket prosthesis.
Over the last five years there have been some amazing advances in technology and innovation in the field of prosthetics, which have significantly improved the lives of the people who use them. We cannot wait to see what lies ahead.
As prosthetics develop, it's now more important than ever to consider a client’s prosthetic needs as soon as possible and to identify the different prosthetic options available through the NHS and privately.
The challenge ahead will be to ensure that the next generation of prosthetic limbs are widely accessible to those who need them so that all prosthetic users can benefit from the recent technological advances.
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting clients affected by limb loss, whether that be following a road traffic accident, medical negligence, a military accident or an accident at work, at our dedicated amputation claims section.