Experimental analysis and computational simulation of unilateral transtibial amputee walking to evaluate prosthetic device design characteristics and amputee gait mechanics
Over one million amputees are living in the United States with major lower limb loss (Ziegler-Graham et al. 2008). Lower limb amputation leads to the functional loss of the ankle plantar flexor muscles, which are important contributors to body support, forward propulsion, and leg swing initiation during walking (Neptune et al. 2001; Liu et al. 2006). Effective prosthetic component design is essential for successful rehabilitation of amputees to return to an active lifestyle by partially replacing the functional role of the ankle muscles. The series of experimental and computer simulation studies presented in this research showed that design characteristics of energy storage and return prosthetic ankles, specifically the elastic stiffness, significantly influence residual and intact leg ground reaction forces, knee joint moments, and muscle activity, thus affecting muscle output. These findings highlight the importance of proper prosthetic foot stiffness prescription for amputees to assure effective rehabilitation outcomes. The research also showed that the ankle muscles serve to stabilize the body during turning the center of mass. When amputees turn while supported by their prosthetic components, they rely more on gravity to redirect the center of mass than active muscle generation. This mechanism increases the risks of falling and identifies a need for prosthetic components and rehabilitation focused on increasing amputee stability during turning. A proper understanding of the effects of prosthetic components on amputee walking mechanics is critical to decreasing complications and risks that are prevalent among lower-limb amputees. The presented research is an important step towards reaching this goal.