Sporting Prosthetics

When it comes to sport, prosthetics cover a large range of socket design and components. You need different equipment and different designs for different sports, whether you are going for the occasional jog or game of table-tennis on holiday through to the seasoned Paralympian training hour after hour, week after week, to reach the top. Back pedalling to the start, you must first consider the basics. We have all done it, the sun is shining, you feel inspired to play that game of tennis or go for a run. By the end you ache, or worse, you have pulled a muscle or have blisters on your foot or residuum (Stump). But that is not the end of it; the next morning you can barely walk, which takes days to get over. As a prosthesis wearer this can be far worse as socket rub, you get inflammation and can’t put your limb on. In short, you must prepare properly for sport.

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We encourage you to work on the body’s core – working on all those small muscles for control. Get the training right and your limb-wearing can become so much easier. Balancing on a physio ball works the muscles you use to maintain balance – essential strength for any activity. Find your local physiotherapist and ask them to work on exercises to help your core. Now you can get started, once you have stretched of course! For many sports you do not need special sockets or components as you probably have enough equipment to make a start. You do not need a blade or Hi-tech component. As long as your components have energy return you are halfway there. Speak to your prescriber and ask what components are in your prosthesis, ask for information about what each bit does and then surf the web for information about the parts. Look out for the build height, activity level, weight category, and component weight. These are all the things that will tell you if you have the right part for your sport. Most of the components will have an activity code e.g. K code, Mobis scale etc. With a little ingenuity you should be able to determine if your parts are up to the job. Many of the mid level products will work. Some high activity components become very rigid and are not suitable to do other activities e.g. blades can be difficult to walk on. Most limbs are set up for walking, however running changes your gait pattern – you now only have one foot in contact with the ground.

All the forces and alignment change, so be careful! Practice in a controlled area so you don’t injure yourself. Prosthetic centres struggle to supply sports limbs thus you must prove your commitment by taking part in sport regularly or participating at a competitive level. Join a sports club, here you will meet other athletes that will help you or inspire you. Anyone heard of joining the gym on January 1st and by February you never darken the door? If you are meeting others you are more likely to stick at it and meet the prosthetic centre criteria. A running blade is about £1300 cost price – not that expensive, but if left in the cupboard this cannot be justified. It maybe that the only way to get a sports limb is to self fund through private care. There are a multitude of products that can help you in sports, whether it is a shotgun appliance or kayak appliance for upper limb through to the Genium knee, which was used to help a Paralympian throw discus in last year’s Paralympics. Your current socket will allow you to make a start, however for the seasoned sportsperson you may require specialist liners or suspension devices to allow you to develop. Many endurance sports will require remade sockets but make sure they are well worn before competing. Don’t run a 5 miler on a new socket because you know what will happen. When you plateau in your development, you will know when it is time for a specialised part. If tiredness prevents you running more than three miles, then you may need a carbon foot to go further, but remember, you can’t expect to run on a £10 pair of shoes, you will need to spend your hard earned cash on equipment

Written for LimbPower by Ian Jones of Limb Solutions