Study of muscle mechanics could lead to better running ‘blades’ for amputees

A researcher at the University of Idaho is studying the muscle interactions of runners to help companies design better prostheses.

Craig McGowan, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences, along with the help of students is developing a computer simulation that models the interactions of running-specific prostheses, often called “blades,” with the body.

“The long-term goal is to have a device that enables people to have healthy, active lifestyles without pain,” McGowan said in a press release.

The project is funded by a 1-year Murdock Foundation Exceptional Opportunity Grant.

McGowan and his team will study the way a runner’s muscles adapt to control a running blade, as well as how the residual limb interacts with the device’s socket, with the goal of improving the performance level of running prostheses.

The first phase of the simulation models an able-bodied runner. For the next step, which is currently in progress, McGowan and his team are building a simulation of an amputee using a prosthesis. The simulation is a modification of a general model from which McGowan removed lost muscle and bone, then added a model of a prosthetic running device.

The model is being tested against real data from amputee runners — the majority of whom are current or former Paralympic athletes — who gathered in Salt Lake City through collaborative research with other institutions, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Utah’s Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, according to the release.

“While our research has direct implications for otherwise healthy individuals who have suffered limb loss due to injury, our hope is to ultimately be able to help the millions of people who have been affected by diseases such as diabetes as well,” McGowan said in the release. “Daily exercise can be a powerful tool in mitigating the impact of disease, but you’re not going to exercise if your prosthesis causes you pain.”


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