Athlete Tech: A Look into the Technology Behind Prosthetic Limbs

by Modis on November 5, 2013

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Modis is a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team Spnosor

For athletic-minded individuals with physical disabilities, innovative and ongoing developments in modern technology are opening a broad spectrum of doors to help keep these determined competitors in the game. Prosthetic limbs of all shapes and forms play an important role for many athletes taking part in the Paralympic Games and Paralympic Winter Games.

From downhill skiing and archery to high-speed sprinting and beyond, there’s an impressive range of sporting events that are made possible through prosthetic technologies. But how do they work, exactly? Let’s take a closer look at some of the fascinating athletic tech that empowers U.S. Paralympic hopefuls and athletes to strive towards achieving greatness in their sporting events of choice. 

Blade Runners

Designed for competitive running and sprinting, running blades are J-shaped prosthetic feet made out of high performance carbon composite that let athletes with single or double leg amputations compete on the track. These unique prosthetics are custom-built to best suit the running styles of each athlete, and many amputee runners use slightly different variations on a similar design.

Unlike higher-tech offerings, like the microprocessor-enhanced prosthetic legs used outside of the competitive sports world, Paralympic-approved running blades work without the aid of sensors or electronics. Instead, they harness, store, and release raw kinetic energy to propel runners forward. The J-blades compress as the runner’s foot hits the ground, and the energy released acts as a spring to help athlete’s build momentum.

As cool as this technology is, it’s not a perfect design for all applications. Standing in place for long periods of time can be challenging and physically taxing. They’re not quite as efficient as real legs either, producing up to 90 percent of the energy generated by each stride compared to the 240 percent energy generating capacity of an able-bodied runners’ legs. That said, these thoughtful inventions are helping many athletes realize their dreams in ways they might not have otherwise.

A Firm Grip

Runners aren’t the only athletes to benefit from prosthetics. While some Paralympic athletes and hopefuls prefer to compete without them, many use an assorted range of upper-limb prosthetics to aid them in their sport of choice.

Cross Country Skiing

Whether it’s to hold a hockey stick, ski pole, tennis racket or to simply provide extra balance, passive function hands or arms are popular among athletes for their sturdiness and overall versatility for different kinds of use in very active sports. Mechanical prosthetics provide greater function, but their more delicate systems use cables, pulleys, and batteries that can be damaged in strenuous events.

Arm and leg prosthetics are only a portion of the technologies available to U.S. Paralympic athletes and hopefuls seeking to stay competitive despite the challenges they face. As athletic tech continues to evolve, we can only image what the future holds.

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