Technology allows amputees to reach athletic potential
The Invictus Games finished up recently in Orlando, Fla. The participants in this multi-sport event were all wounded military personnel. Along with the Paralympics, these events are a tribute to the human spirit and specifically the drive to compete.
Among the athletes facing the greatest challenges are those who have suffered amputations. Battlefield injuries may be the result of explosive devices. Although the torso can be adequately protected, the limbs and the brain are vulnerable to injury. There also have been more amputations as a result of earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Although the most obvious debility is the biomechanical disadvantage of losing an extremity, there are serious potential complications.
After amputation, adequate healing of the remaining stump can be a challenge. The general health of the patient is crucial to healing. Patients with complicating conditions, including diabetes and vascular disease, are more likely to require a longer recuperation for adequate healing.
Another challenge is phantom pain. The nervous system is a network of peripheral nerves that communicate by sending signals to the brain where those signals are recognized and a pattern of limb movement is initiated.
When that network is disrupted after an amputation, the pattern remains in place, creating the often painful phenomenon of a phantom limb.
Research principally conducted by the military has led to the development of modern prostheses consisting of a complex system of hydraulic joints. “New prosthetic limbs are realizing the promise of full functional restoration for patients everywhere,” reports retired United States Army Colonel, Dr. Geoffrey Ling, who is now a professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland.
The tragedy of war has prompted technological breakthroughs that allow athletes who have suffered amputations to continue to reach their athletic potential.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org