Prosthetics study to improve mobility of amputees

Wednesday 13 February 2013
Peel Building in the snow
Peel Building in the snow
Research by the University of Salford, University of Manchester and Blatchford’s Endolite Technology Centre will help to enhance the mobility of people with above-knee amputations by improving the energy efficiency of prosthetic legs.

When walking with a single prosthetic leg, above-knee amputees typically use up to 60% more energy than people who are able-bodied, causing fatigue and a 40% slower walking speed. These difficulties can hinder an amputee’s mobility and, as a result, affect their quality of life.

The energy storage and return capabilities of prosthetic legs are crucial to improving an amputee’s gait and mobility, but most prostheses only store and return significant energy below the knee and in an uncontrolled way.

To overcome these problems the team of engineers and prosthetists will explore the potential for using hydraulic technology to harvest and store energy from the parts of the prosthesis that absorb power, and then return that energy to the parts that do useful propulsive work.

The results will be used to develop new prosthetic leg designs which have increased functionality and require less energy from the amputee.

The project lead, Professor David Howard of the University of Salford’s School of Computing, Science & Engineering, said: “This is an opportunity for truly transformative research, leading to more biomechanically efficient prosthetic legs, enabling amputees to walk faster for longer and therefore lead more active lives.”

Salford is the only provider of prosthetics and orthotics higher education in England, focusing on teaching, research and enterprise. Many of its graduates are now leaders in the profession, both nationally and internationally.

The three-year study is supported by a grant of £672,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.