Amputations are performed in order to save lives after an accident or from an unstoppable pathology, like cancers or infections. These personal misfortunes drag down the march of development of our species. And humanity responded with prosthetics in order to overcome the hurdles of amputations.
Loss of a limb is an extremely disastrous experience. Even after a significantly long time after the amputation, complications persist to present difficulties. The human body is tuned at its optimum so that it can make the most of its anatomy and physiology. Loss of a component from this extremely well-balanced system results in both physical and mental inconveniences.
The presence of relevant and functional anatomical features like myelination and synapses renders the efforts of adaptation a very taxing undertaking. The inconveniences, in this case, manifest into phantom limb phenomenon and other neurophysiological complications. Alongside dealing with these inconveniences an amputee has to go through the frustrations of not being able to feel the usual sensations and not being able to take part in usual activities. An amputation thus possesses the power of destroying the livelihood of humans in a very detailed manner and most of the times the damage done is irreversible.
With the increasing load of amputations, the suffering continues on the social stage. The pace of development and progress is dragged down massively due to amputations. Humanity responded to these unacceptable challenges by conceiving prosthetics.
Compared to the medieval era, when prosthetics were originally conceived; today’s prostheses are lighter, cheaper and more functional. After the incorporation of bionics, the field experienced a revolution and went through a drastic change. Bionics granted the amputees the ability to execute tasks at will with the help of prosthetics. Prior to the emergence of bionics, the prosthetics were significantly inept at performing day to day tasks and were considered as more of a cosmetic upgrade. A bionic hand is controlled by powerful onboard microcomputers able to translate electromyographic signals into gestures and actions depending on the hardware of a prosthesis. The wielding experience of a bionic prosthesis is thus quite empowering.
But, there are significant limitations in the path of a bionic prosthesis mediated rehabilitation. And the shortcomings are hidden in the underlying working mechanism of such a prosthesis. A bionic prosthesis picks up electromyographic inputs with the help of EMG sensors placed on the skin. These sensors can pick up electromyographic signals from the residual muscles and feed the same to the computer onboard. Hence the presence of those residual muscles is essential for the existence of EMG signals. Amputees not retaining those residual muscles is thus considered unfit for wielding bionic prostheses.
In those scenarios when patients retain the necessary muscles for effectively wielding a bionic hand. Must go through a rigorous schedule of training and incubation. During this transitional phase, the prostheses are calibrated and the user becomes aware of the capabilities and limitations of the bionic enhancement. The contributing factor for emerging victorious through this ordeal is the sheer power of will. Willingness for coming back to life and making significant contributions can be perhaps the only motivation that can help patients through this schedule struggles.
The emergence of new hope
In spite of having key limitations and difficulties in day to day applicability, bionics remain a force to be reckoned with. Bionics is perhaps the best possible way of prostheses based rehabilitation post-amputation.
The first generation of prostheses was made up of wood, metal and other heavy materials regardless of the weight difference between both limbs. But today’s prostheses are made up of lighter and stronger materials with superior strength to weight ratio.
Additionally, the parts and components of the prosthesis in contact with skin are also better in today’s prosthesis. Silicone elastomers and superhydrophobic materials are being used in order to deliver a wielding experience with very little friction and a greater promise of hygiene.
Given the developments in the field of developmental biology and allied disciplines, 3d printed prosthetic limbs are not a farfetched future. They are very much on the horizon and are expected to take over soon. Till then, bionics is perhaps the only way of adding the factor of efficiency to a mundane prosthesis. And with time the limitations are expected to present fewer obstacles as the field of prosthetics is witnessing an unprecedented amount of innovations.