Prosthetics have been one of the greatest godsends in the field of surgery and medicine. Ever since the French Royal Surgeon Ambroise Paré created mechanical limbs for his amputee soldiers, prosthetics have seen a steep slope of ascent in terms of accessibility and ease of use. We now have the best of technologies that enable users to control and manoeuvre their limbs, by using advancements such as deep learning, similar to that of a normal person.
The biggest issue that we run into is creating prosthetics for children, especially in the rapidly growing age group of 6-12 years old. According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 31.1% of the lower limb and 34.6% of upper limb amputations that lead to prosthetic use are found in children that attend high school or less. The aforementioned demographic goes through physical changes during this and as a result finding suitable prosthetics becomes a very burdensome and expensive task. A prosthetic component lasts an average of 3-5 years and along with the issue it getting old, there exists a constant worry of getting a new replacement due to the changes that occur in body shape.
These problems are even more severe for upper limb amputees as compared to lower limb amputees. A major reason for that is the fact that upper limbs serve a very different function and have a distinct structure when compared to lower limbs. Apart from being a major weight-bearing joint in our body, they are also used differently by different people e.g. the upper limbs of a software engineer would serve a purpose different from that of a builder because the former uses more finesse and precision doing tasks like typing on the keyboard while the latter requires more robustness in work that involves heavy lifting or using equipment that requires much more physical effort. Also, upper limb amputations are mainly caused by trauma incurred in work fields or during accidents, and those events often have a very long-lasting effect on our brain, hence making it difficult for our body to adapt to changes, meanwhile, lower-limb amputations occur in diseases such as diabetes, sarcoma and (in very rare cases) cancer and hence give the amputee much greater time to get accustomed to his condition.
But as things stand, there has been work done to ensure that all of the above burdens are compensated by the use of technology and an advanced understanding of how the human body works. I-Limb Quantum by Össur, an Icelandic company that claims to be the pioneer in the development of non-invasive prosthetics would go a long way in providing better solutions for people that have gone through trauma-inducing amputations. Research agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Government, play a crucial role in the development of next-gen technologies in the upper limb prosthetics market. The problem was evident, young soldiers that lost their arms on the battlefield needed to be serviced so that they can have a better quality of life. One such product is the LUKE Arm system, which was originally developed for DARPA by DEKA Research and Development Corporation. This device has a modular, battery-powered arm that uses a simple, intuitive control system that allows users to move multiple joints simultaneously.
Many other scientific front runners have joined hands to provide better solutions that address all the aforementioned problems. With greater innovation in the field of AI and Neuroscience, and with tech like HAPTIX (Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces) and ACMC (Assessment of Capacity for Myoelectric Control) the future looks bright, especially for the upper limb prosthetics market. The advancements have altered the production process to emphasize customization of prosthetics, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, despite the major issues, collective efforts are being made to increase the usability of prosthetics, whether it’s concerned with providing solutions to existing hurdles like the low life span of prosthetic equipment or bringing innovations. And even though it looks far-fetched, there exists a ray of hope that access to good quality prosthetics isn’t just a luxury for the rich but instead an everyday commodity.