Research from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) could soon help an estimated 2 million people in America living with amputations. Using funding from a $425,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team of scientists in UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building will spend the next two years working with undergraduate and graduate students to examine sensory connections between lower-limb amputation sites and prostheses worn to improve mobility. The research will examine how minor vibrations at varying frequencies could be applied through the prosthetic socket to condition the limb to better respond to the environment.
The new study is the result of doctoral student Jenny Kent’s dissertation research and work done by UNO alumnus Shane Wurdeman, PhD, who is currently a researcher for Hanger, a medical equipment and clinical care company headquartered in Austin, Texas. Wurdeman is a consultant on the study.
Throughout the study, Kent will work with Biomechanics Research Building Director Nicholas Stergiou, PhD, who has published numerous articles on movement variability and how different stimuli can help adjust people’s walking patterns.
“When you lose part of a lower extremity, you don’t just lose the mechanical aspect; there is a huge sensory component that you no longer have,” Kent explained. “The aim of the intervention we’re testing is to enable people to sense the position and movement of their prosthesis better.”
Stergiou and Kent explained that this is particularly important for people who use a prosthesis to navigate uneven terrain, especially during outdoor activities such as hiking or jogging.
“A lot of work and money has gone into developing high-end prosthetic technology that can mimic a foot or a knee, but the ability to sense and appropriately move and place the limb is important for actually being able to exploit these features,” Kent said. “If the intervention is successful, it will increase adaptability, potentially reducing falls and allowing people to tackle environments and pursue activities that they might normally avoid.”
Stergiou expects there to be a high level of interest from a successful outcome in applying the process to lower-limb prostheses given the inexpensive and simple nature of the therapy. Additionally, there would be room to expand the research to include upper-limb prostheses as well.
This article was adapted from information provided by UNO.