Monday, July 16, 2007

Advances in prosthetics help U.S. soldiers

Hundreds of American soldiers have returned from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees, with more than 100 having lost multiple limbs. Fortunately, dramatic improvements in prosthetics are restoring mobility and productivity to these injured heroes.

Some of these innovations include microprocessor knees, the standard for U.S. soldiers in need of a lower-limb prosthesis. They make hundreds of calculations per minute to adapt to a user's gait. Another innovation is targeted muscle reenervation, which reroutes nerve signals in an amputee's residual limb, allowing him or her to "feel" and sense movement in the artificial limb.
"The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have led the way with a huge commitment of resources for research and development to identify superior materials and technologies that have provided a quantum leap in our therapeutic alternatives," said Ted Snell, a certified prosthetist, president of CFI Prosthetics and Orthotics and the 200607 president of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association.

In addition to soldiers, civilians reap the benefits of advanced prosthetics and increased funding for research. Heather Mills, a below-knee amputee, was highly praised for her appearance on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." Oscar Pistorius, a 20-year-old South African double amputee who competed in Athens at the 2004 Paralympics, is now running the 200- and 400-meter sprints fast enough to earn a spot on the official Olympic team.

Although the advances in orthotics (orthopedic braces) and prosthetics are considered good news stories for many, there are still challenges to overcome. Comparing Medicare payments in 2003 against 2005 payments, dollars paid for orthotic and prosthetic devices declined while the number of devices provided increased.

This story is provided by North American Precis Syndicate Inc.

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