Prosthetic leg gives feeling back to amputees

Human use of artificial limbs is hardly news in itself – even the world “prosthetics” is derived from Ancient Greek.

Prosthetic leg gives feeling back to amputees

That said, the original, crude designs have certainly been improved upon over time, and development took a bigger leap forwards than usual this week when Austrian scientists unveiled an artificial leg capable of providing feeling.

The breakthrough mean that amputees will be able to improve their balance and coordination, thanks to feedback from the surfaces they walk on.

In order to make the prosthesis function, nerve endings from the patient’s stump are attached to healthy thigh tissue near the surface of the skin. These nerves are then connected through the prosthesis to a specially designed foot containing six sensors.


The first beneficiary of the limb, developed by Professor Hubert Egger from the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, was Wolfgang Rangger, a former teacher who lost his right leg to a blood clot following a cerebral stroke eight years ago.

“It’s like a second lease of life, like being reborn,” he told AFP. “It feels like I have a foot again. I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, grass or sand. I can even feel small stones.”

Remarkably, the artificial limb has improved Rangger’s quality of life in an even more significant way: it has eradicated his phantom pain symptoms.

Phantom pain is thought to be caused by oversensitivity in the brain as it seeks information about a missing limb. The result is severe discomfort originating from limbs the sufferer no longer has.

In Rangger’s case, this was crippling. “I was barely able to walk with a conventional prosthesis,” he said. “I didn’t sleep for more than two hours a night and I needed morphine to make it through the day.”

However, just days after the prosthesis was attached, these symptoms vanished.

Unfortunately, this miraculous improvement doesn’t come cheap. Currently, the prosthetic limb costs between €10,000 and €30,000 (£7,300 and £22,000), but Egger hopes the involvement of companies will help bring down the costs.

“People with amputations aren’t patients in the traditional sense, they aren’t sick – they’re just missing a limb,” explained Egger. “By giving them back mobility, they also regain their independence and are able to reintegrate into society. That’s what I work for.”

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