How Artificial Limb Technology Has Evolved 

How Artificial Limb Technology Has Evolved 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020 14:42

Living with limb loss is complex: while we can, with adjustment, live a full, active, healthy life, there is no doubt that - at times - it is far from easy. Fortunately, though, artificial limb technology has evolved significantly in the last two decades. Advances make it, if not easy, then easier to find your new normal, meet your goals, and thrive. We have come a long way since the first prosthetics made of wood and leather (and even iron!). And while we have a ways to go and are committed to continual innovation, today’s prosthetic devices represent a vast improvement. 

The first known prosthetic was… a wooden toe. An Egyptian noblewoman had a big toe crafted to correct her walk - and because a big toe was necessary for traditional Egyptian sandals. In early prosthetics, we also see metal limbs that were attached to the existing stump with straps. Movement, as you can imagine, was quite limited, and the prosthetics were heavy and unwieldy. Prior to the 20th century, people also took a DIY approach, crafting artificial limbs from household objects, like chair or table legs, textiles, and string.


Tragedy Pushed Artificial Limb Technology Forward 

The rudimentary science of prosthetics began to evolve during the WWI and WWII era when war injuries pushed the field further. For example, a wooden prosthetic hand would have a moveable thumb, forefinger, and middle finger to grasp objects. Manufacturers also began to paint them or otherwise craft them to look more “lifelike.” 

Unfortunately, many of the advancements in artificial limb technology came about as a result of tragic circumstances. In the 1960s, for instance, land mines maimed countless victims in developing nations. The “Jaipur foot” was developed in India, and to pardon the pun, it represented a big step forward. Light, durable, and comparatively inexpensive, it was more practical than other artificial feet previously available.

The 1960s also brought advancements in terms of movements. Some artificial arms were powered by canisters of carbon dioxide gas. By the 1980s, we saw prosthetics that were powered by electrodes. These stimulated the muscle and allowed for better movement.

A Shift Towards Natural Movement

As materials and technologies improved, artificial limbs began to focus not so much on appearing natural as moving naturally. The revolutionary iwalk BiOM - the first foot made to mimic the function of a real human foot - mimicked the bone and soft tissue movements, provided precise energy, and quite accurately replicated the movement of the ankle and foot. Its creator, MIT professor Hugh Herr (himself a double amputee) says that users have “told me that it feels like they have their ankle back.”

With technologies like onboard microprocessors and implants that are placed in the sensory system to control nerve action, people with artificial limbs can achieve much more freedom of motion, control, stability, and balance. Not unimportantly, they are also much more comfortable to wear.

While war and catastrophe spurred great innovation when it comes to artificial limbs, people who live with limb loss also deserve a great deal of credit. It is due in large part to consumer demands that science and technology have advanced to the point where we are now - and will continue to do so into the future. It is a testament to the drive and determination of not only the scientific community but to amputees themselves. 

With artificial limbs, it is possible to work in your chosen field, enjoy your family, be an active member of your community, participate in your favorite activities - and try new ones! - all while living your best life. 

If you have questions about artificial limbs, please do not hesitate to contact Orthopedic Appliance Company. Prosthetics have come a long way from their beginnings - and you will go a long way with a customized, comfortable artificial limb.