Amputee Exercise – Prosthetics in Sport Part 2

As the “Games” come closer and closer we are beginning to see more and more in the news about the potential of athletes.  Headlines such as “Will Oscar Pistorius compete at the Olympics?”

or “Will Jerome Singleton beat Oscar at the Paralympics?”

 As we pointed out in Part 1 there is the suggestion that Paralympic amputee sprinting has evolved to such an extent that if you are not wearing the latest technology, you will no longer be competitive.  So, today we will talk a bit more about the key elements of “Paralympic Amputee Sprinting” – the sport that is getting currently getting all the “Press.”

Success at the paralympic level, much like amputee exercise and rehabilitation itself, requires a co-ordinated multi-disciplinary team approach.  The team comprises of the running coach, prosthetist, physiotherapist, doctor, nutritionist and psychologist, all of whom liaise with each other and work together with the athlete, who provides the skill, courage and determination in order to compete.  The purpose of these next couple of posts is to present some of the innovations in prosthetics that enable amputee athletes to compete at an elite level and some of the interesting controversies currently facing the sport.

Prosthetically speaking, sprint foot design principles have not changed a great deal over the last 15 years.  The foot is made from carbon fibre which stores and releases energy under load.  The key though, as with all prosthetic components is the ability of the athlete to use the foot.  ie It won’t run for you!

From a physiotherapist’s point of view, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done in the preparation of the athlete’s body to be able to control this type of foot, harness its advantages, be able to perform correct sprint technique while avoiding injury!

(NB:  These amputee exercises are “progressions” of what you have been shown in chapters 7-11 of The Amputee Coach Book.  It all starts with your core.)

Socket and interface (what connects the prosthesis to the athlete) components have changed dramatically over this time, from liners made from open cell foams like the innersoles used in shoes, to liners made from silicones and polyurethanes, capable of transferring sheer forces and absorbing shock with flow characteristics.  When used in conjunction with mechanical pin lock systems or negative pressure suspension, friction to the athlete’s skin is minimised, abrasion and stump breakdown are eliminated and the athlete is able to train longer and harder on their prosthesis to achieve the elite levels of fitness and performance that we see at the Paralympic level today.

Like in rehabilitation, the physiotherapist and prosthetist liaise during the training program as the athlete’s body and performance improves.  As the athlete improves, component and alignment changes need to be made to the prosthesis to continue to enhance their performance.

The impact that prosthetic technology has had in amputee sprinting was exemplified last year during the 2011 13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics held in Daegu, South Korea.  A great deal of focus was not on the performance of able bodied sprint athletes, but on an athlete with a disability, South African, Oscar Pistorius.  Oscar caused controversy because he had qualified for the meet and was beating able bodied athletes, leading people to ask, “Is having NO legs an advantage when sprinting?”

Be sure to leave comments with your feedback, suggestions and questions.

Until next time… Cathy …. The Amputee Coach

PS  Find out the answer to the question “Is having NO legs an advantage when sprinting?” next week in Part 3 of Amputee Exercise – Prosthetics in Sport

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