Prosthetics can greatly improve an amputee’s quality of life, yet current lower-limb devices can’t provide continuous neural control of balance or posture, which can lead to a variety of consequences, such as difficulty walking on certain surfaces or an increased likelihood to fall. Now, NIBIB-funded researchers are working on an ankle prosthetic that relies on the user’s residual muscles—and the electrical signals that they generate—to help amputees with their postural control.
Roughly 2 million people living in the United States have had an amputation, with approximately 185,000 amputations being performed in this country every year. Amputations of the lower limbs are the most common, and many individuals will choose to use a prosthetic device to assist in walking and other types of ambulation. The majority of lower-limb prostheses are passive devices, which are designed to store and return energy during walking, but do not provide power or allow a normal range of motion. Meanwhile, most powered prostheses can help the user to move their residual limb, but require external sensors to help anticipate the user’s movement. This prototype ankle prosthetic, on the other hand, is controlled by directly mapping the electrical activity generated from the user’s muscles without the need for external sensors or complex automation. The neurally controlled, powered prosthetic device relies on training the user’s residual muscles to create continuous control of their posture and balance.