One of the many concerns after someone has an amputation can be ‘will I be able to walk normally again?’ Ambulation is what our legs are designed for; we spend the first year of our lives just preparing to take a step.
When a biological leg is replaced by a prosthesis, the complicated balance of strength and efficiency that we have developed to allow us to walk is compromised. The unevenness of gait and changed aesthetic can also greatly affect someone’s confidence, leading to decreased mobility and other health issues.
So how does a person help restore ‘normal’ gait after something as life-altering as an amputation? The answer is practice, adaptation, retraining, and often the trained eye of an outsider. As a physical therapist, I have worked with many individuals, including amputees, to help regain balanced and efficient movement patterns. And where can a UNYQ prosthetic cover have a place in this process? The visual restoration of symmetry is key.
In physical therapy, a very important component of returning to normal movement patterns is the idea of regaining symmetry. It is the loss of symmetry, not just visual but mechanical, that causes problems and interrupts our ability to move effectively.
If one side is weak, you want to make it at least as strong as the other side. For people with compromised gait patterns, it is a common tool to use a mirror or video for feedback so they can visually note asymmetry and try to make corrections.
Visually noting these imbalances, however, is difficult to do for amputees. A thin prosthesis minimizes the width and girth of a leg, and visually skews the symmetry between the sound side and the amputated leg. Thus when looking for this discrepancy in gait with someone wearing a prosthesis, it can become difficult to see if there is actually a problem with the way someone is walking, or if one is just looking at superficial differences.
The importance of regaining symmetry is not only aesthetic, but crucial to protecting the sound limb. Due to the nature of an amputation, there is already an increased pressure on the intact leg, which inevitably ends up taking more load than it is designed for during gait.
Studies have shown that over time, these increased pressures can lead to osteoarthritis of the sound limb, especially with compensatory movements of the amputated side. Thus, with decreased symmetry usually indicating increased weight on the sound side, there are a multitude of risk factors for both above knee and below knee amputees.
UNYQ’s prosthetic covers offer a beautiful way to address these issues. When I first learned about UNYQ, I was really inspired by the way customized 3D printing can help restore a person’s individual physical presence. Because the cover is measured using the sound limb as the base, the true shape of the original limb is recreated for a person.
Through this process, the visual symmetry between the two limbs is somewhat restored, also allowing a person to visually even out their gait pattern and increase confidence. Placing the cover either fully exposed or under clothing helps balance how someone looks when they’re walking, making it easier to make adjustments to gait patterns.
In addition to assisting with the quality of gait, the added confidence with visual improvement may effectively increase the overall amount someone is able to to walk throughout the day. By decreasing the mental fatigue which can occur with analyzing each step, a person may gain more ease with movement.
A Personal Experience
John Oljar, an above knee amputee and UNYQ cover user, has had a very interesting experience wearing a cover.
“Several amputees will say ‘nobody can notice’ when they are wearing pants,” said John. “I get the same confidence and quality of gait wearing a UNYQ cover. A skinny cover/pipe visually looks different even if your gait is perfect. The UNYQ cover is symmetrical and looks more natural.”
When asked if using UNYQ has helped to increase walking distance, John stated “I say yes from this standpoint. I spend less mental cycles analyzing my gait when wearing a UNYQ cover. The added confidence and savings on mental cycles makes for less fatigue and a more productive day.”
The possible effects of increasing visual symmetry in a person’s gait with UNYQ products are powerful and encouraging. I believe there is extremely valuable research that can be done on the relationship between visual symmetry and confidence for the user, as well its potential impact on improving the quality and possibly even the quantity of gait.
“In a nutshell” John says, “the UNYQ covering looks more natural and visually improves your gait – which is noticed by friends, family and strangers.”
About the Author
Anna Sternin is a physical therapist in the Bay Area who works in a variety of settings. She is passionate about bridging the gap between healthcare and technology to improve the quality of people’s lives.