So lately on a few of the different social media sites I frequent I have been hearing a lot about powered knees, powered ankles, and other very cool prosthetic devices. They can be a game changer for some, and I have several friends who have some awesome microprocessor controlled feet and/or knees. I am glad they have them, and I am also equally satisfied that I don’t.
Why, you might ask? Well, my funny answer is always “In the event of a zombie apocalypse the power will go out. I do not want to be the guy with the 7 pound a piece powered feet when I run out of juice! Zombies will catch me!” But in all seriousness, I do actually have some valid reasons for not feeling the need for powered prosthetics. (Of course, I would be glad to test drive a pair if some company wanted to give me a pair, I’m no dummy, you never turn down the chance to get free feet!)
The big problem with the “bionic” feet is the price tag, they are so very cost prohibitive for the average amputee. You have to jump through hoops to get the knee or foot, or in the case of my good friend Joe Riffe, you have to bully and badger your insurance company into doing what’s right. Insurance doesn’t always want to come through for you, and sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands to get them to pony up.
Another very large issue I see with powered prosthetics is that often times the amputee doesn’t really know how to walk with a regular prosthesis, much less a powered one. Putting a powered knee on an above knee amputee that has always walk with a lateral swing as opposed to a full follow-through swing is not going to get much use out of their cool new battery operated number. One of the most awesome above knee amputees I have ever seen can jump up into a chair seat with his prosthetic side and lock out the manual knee at the top of the jump, and his knee is a free moving knee with nothing more than a hinge! He simply knows how to control and walk with his prosthetic knee.
That is what this whole bionic knee/foot thing boils down to for me, do you really know how to walk? Do you know how to keep that knee from buckling on you? Do you know how to give a proper heel strike and toe-off, then a properly aligned follow through on your step? If you don’t, then you are not ready for a powered prosthetic!
If the only reason you get that bionic body part is so you don’t have to learn to properly walk, or build the strength to do so, then you are doing yourself no favors. Getting that nice new C-Leg just so you can use it’s hydrolic knee and tiny computer to keep you from having to learn prosthetic control, proper gait, and proper in-socket technique (read: so you don’t have to learn how to keep that knee from buckling because a microprocessor will hold you up) you are going to be in a world of hurt when that knee goes out on you.
If you get that nice new iWalk, Propieo, or other new foot to keep you from learning proper gait (as noted above) you are hurting yourself in the long run. walking with manual prosthetics builds technique and strength, something you may not get walking with a microprocessor foot. I walk with regular prosthetics every day, and both my feet are made for agility, not speed. I have friends who tell me they can’t understand why I want to walk with feet that don’t give as good of energy return, but the reason is simple. I will sacrifice energy return to be able to walk up and down slopes and on uneven surfaces every time. the fact that I don’t have as much energy return in the design of the foot simply means I build STRENGTH in my legs to power through on my own.
When I occasionally put on my energy return feet, I feel like I am walking on a kids bouncy house. I power through my steps so much I will bottom-out my heel with my heel-strikes, and the toe-off feels like I am walking in soft mud. I don’t need that extra energy return because I have built up the strength in my legs to power through my walking. Don’t get me wrong, those that use high energy return feet love them, and I am glad for them, but it is not for me.
The analogy of the high return vs. the agility feet above transfers well to the non-powered vs. powered argument. Learning good technique will always serve you better than just getting a super-knee or super-foot that does it for you. everyone remember the ice storm of 2009? I do. I was still fully limbed at the time, and was lucky enough to live in an area that was only out of power for a few days. My hometown was out of power for nearly three weeks! I can’t imagine what all those out there with battery powered prosthetics were having to deal with having no power.
That awesome foot that does your follow-through and toe-off for you is nothing but dead weight when that battery goes dead. I saw a guy with a single below knee prosthesis with a powered foot this summer at the conference in Orlando, FL. His battery died suddenly on him and he went from walking like a boss to walking like a pirate with a peg-leg. He might as well of had a brick attached to the end of his pylon. I wonder what he did during the ice storm? did he have a spare regular foot? Was he able to get out on the roads to see his prosthetist? was his prosthetist’s shop even open or have power? did he even know how to walk on a regular foot?
I am not trying to bash those with powered prosthetics, or those prosthetics themselves. Like I said, I wouldn’t turn down a set of microprocessor feet to try out. (Hint, hint, Magellan feet people, I think those things are bad-ass! Send me a pair to try out) All I’m saying is, learn how to walk first, before jumping into a battery powered wonder that costs more than a nice suburban home.
Because remember, when the zombie apocalypse happens, you will be screwed when the power goes out!