PUBLISHED:
July 18, 2023
Updated:
|
by
Eddie Zepeda

Can You Run with a Prosthetic Leg?

Athletic Prosthetics

Yes! Prosthetic running leg technology advancements have greatly enhanced the quality of life for individuals with lower-limb disabilities, allowing them to pursue an active running lifestyle.

Amputees can enjoy jogging and running with patience, a proper rehabilitation program, and a prosthetic running leg. After a while, and with careful training, it's even possible to run competitively with prosthetic legs.

PrimeCare is a leading custom lower limb prosthetics provider in Albuquerque & Las Cruces. We've written this blog to answer common questions about running prostheses, including the rehabilitation process, cost, helpful self-care tips, and more.

Understanding Prosthetic Leg Components

A prosthetic leg consists of a foot (or, in the case of running, a prosthetic leg blade, which is what you may have seen in the Paralympics), the socket, and the liner.

These three prosthetic leg parts fit together to form the complete prosthetic leg. The prosthetic leg attaches to the residual limb, commonly called the stump. The stump must be placed in a specialized liner, then slid into the socket created to fit the stump, with either the foot or blade attached.

A pin socket is used for walking, while a custom-fitted suction socket is better for prosthetic running. Alternatively, an amputee runner can use a vacuum socket system - a liner that wraps around the socket and residual limb and creates a vacuum to hold the prosthetic leg in place.

Types of Prosthetic Running Legs & Feet

If you want to enhance your running ability, you must wear the right equipment. This is true for amputees, for whom there are a variety of custom running prosthetics that accommodate varying running forms.

  • Sprinting feet: Sprint runners require stiffer prosthetics than those designed for long-distance running. This is because a more rigid design provides a faster energy return and push-off, helping them to run more effectively.
  • Long-distance running feet: Long-distance running feet curve similar to the letter “C” to allow individuals to accomplish running for three miles or further. Their curved design releases energy more slowly, as opposed to the quick bursts from feet shaped in a “J” meant for sprinting.
  • Limb length discrepancy: Prosthetic running feet are particularly energy-efficient because of the two stages they undergo – compression, which involves storing power, and release, which requires energy return. However, this kind of running comes with a challenge – the sides of the feet can be shortened up to two inches. To address this issue, prosthetists often increase the length of the running leg by extending it one to two inches, which helps to achieve a more balanced posture, improved comfort, and performance.
  • Foot whip: Foot whip, caused by weak hip flexors and adductors, is an inward foot rotation that occurs when running. Exercising and stretching can help to strengthen muscles and keep the alignment in check. Fortunately, various prosthetic running feet are available to help avoid foot whip.
prosthetic leg running

What Are the Challenges of Running with a Prosthetic Leg?

Those who use prosthetic legs for running often experience the same difficulties as those with two healthy legs, including maintaining motivation, routine consistency, and pushing themselves. But there are also extra obstacles depending on the type of artificial running legs:

— Sweat

Sweating has adverse effects on both suspension and skin health. The moisture sweat reduces the sealing action required to maintain a good suspension level. Sweat also pools around the residual limb, resulting in a warm and moist environment favorable for bacterial growth and skin irritation.

— Blisters

Managing blisters as an amputee can be tricky, as your stump may shrink or swell depending on temperatures. The best way to avoid irritation or friction is to lubricate parts of the skin prone to blistering. Ensure your prosthetic socket fits appropriately; if it's too tight, it could put additional pressure on the skin.

— Getting the Right Socket Fit

A good socket fit improves running speed, stability, and energy efficiency, allowing optimal weight distribution and balance. Poor-fitting sockets can also lead to pain, discomfort, and difficulty with proper running biomechanics. Therefore, getting the right socket fit is crucial for amputee runners to ensure their safety and performance.

— The Greater Core Muscle Engagement

A weak core is detrimental to amputee runners – it can lead to improper form, an increased risk of injury, decreased speed, and poor running economy. Fortunately, regular core exercise muscles prevent these issues, allowing amputee runners to maximize their form, safety, speed, and comfort.

Tips for Post-Run Recovery for Runners with Prosthetic Limbs

After each workout:

  1. Take a few minutes for light stretching — Focus on your shoulders, neck, and other areas connected to the prosthesis to reduce tension and reduce the risk of injury
  2. Remove the gel liner and wipe away any dirt from the outside.
  3. Turn it inside out and clean the gel with antibacterial soap and lukewarm water, followed by thorough rinsing and drying.
  4. Inspect all parts of your prosthetic leg closely, spray the inside socket with an alcohol-based cleaner, and dry with a clean cloth.

You should also wash your residual limb with antibacterial soap regularly, especially in the mornings and after exercise.

Monitor your pain levels, and don’t rush into your next workout. Listen to your body and follow its cues when establishing your next workout. Taking the time to recover properly is key.

Your prosthetic team can also recommend antiperspirants or lotions that could be best for your limb. Avoid over-the-counter products that may cause irritation or drying.

Things to Keep in Mind When Running on Prosthetic Legs

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned amputee runner, there are several essential things to keep in mind to ensure safety and successful running with your prosthetic legs:

  • Make sure your prosthetic fits properly: There should be no discomfort or awkward pressure points, as this can lead to blisters and affects how you feel when running.
  • Be patient: When starting with your running prosthetic, you must give yourself time to adjust. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your runs only when you are comfortable with the activity.
  • Modify your running technique: Depending on your running form and prosthetic legs, you may need to adjust your running style. Your stride might be shorter, and finding the best motion that works for you will take time.
  • Consider additional padding: If necessary, add extra padding to areas with greater pressure points. This can help protect your skin from abrasions and allow for more comfort.
  • Strengthen other parts of your body: Strengthening your core, upper body, and other stabilizing muscles can help you maintain balance and control when running on your prosthetic legs.
  • Watch your running surface: Avoid slippery and uneven terrain and obstacles that may be challenging when running with prosthetic legs.
  • Modify your running shoes: Ensure you invest in the correct running shoes for your running gait. Look for shoes with an extra-supportive midsole and thicker cushioning in the forefoot and heel.
  • Give yourself time to rest: Don’t forget to take breaks when running on your prosthetic legs. It’s essential to give your body time to rest and recover after each run.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: If you need assistance, there are many prosthetists and physical therapists who can give you the advice and support you need to get started with amputee running legs.

How to Start Running with Lower Limb Amputation

First, for safety reasons, it is recommended that those with a prosthetic leg for running work with a qualified clinician and use a gait belt.

Generally, learning to run with prosthetic legs entails the following:

  • Step 01 | Build trust: First, focus on ensuring your limb touches the ground during each stride. You need to be 100% confident the limb will support your weight and have the strength to progress to running.
  • Step 02 | Backward extensions: This step of the running motion is known as the swing phase and is essential for achieving maximum performance. During the swing phase, you create a backward force by forcefully pulling the prosthetic leg back before the prosthetic blade strikes the ground. This movement has two effects: it will increase your speed and help to shift the body weight over the prosthesis, allowing the prosthetic foot to perform at its maximum capability.
  • Step 03 | Limb strides: For a greater stride, start by pulling the prosthetic limb down and to the back as soon as the prosthetic running foot hits the ground. Make sure to extend the hip deeper into the socket to achieve maximum power in the push-off from the prosthetic. Doing so will allow the sound limb to take a full stride.
  • Step 04 |Stride symmetry: In step four, you should take it easy by jogging at a comfortable pace with a consistent stride length for both limbs. Focus on maintaining balance over the prosthetic limb by using the muscles of the hips to take even, relaxed strides.
  • Step 05 | Arm swing: During this phase, the arms and legs should move in opposition. For example, the left arm should do the same as the right leg moves forward. The elbows should bend to about ninety degrees, and the hands should form a loose fist that rises to just below chin level when brought forward. Ultimately, the arm swing is derived from trunk rotation. Balance, momentum, and efficient energy are achieved as the trunk and pelvis rotate in opposition.
  • Step 06 | Put all the steps together: After a lot of training, you should be able to combine all of the elements of running together. Try to focus on only a couple of running elements with each practice session. Many long-distance runners try to increase their endurance by participating in lower-impact activities such as swimming, biking, or using stair-climbing machines.
prosthetic running legs

How Much Do Running Blades Cost?

A running blade for a below-the-knee amputee can cost as much as $3,500. An above-the-knee amputee, who also needs a knee socket, will usually end up paying between $8,000 and $9,000. Some insurances do not cover athletic prosthetics because they're' not deemed essential. For this reason, it is best to contact your medical aid to learn about the details and the extent of their coverage for a prosthetic running blade.

Embracing Possibilities: Running with a Prosthetic Leg Beyond Limitations

Running with a prosthetic leg may seem daunting. Still, it can be made much easier with the proper knowledge, resources, and prosthetic team.

Various prosthetic running legs and blades are available to suit the needs of every runner. Although there are some difficulties to contend with, they can be managed with the proper post-run recovery routines and running form.

Prosthetic running leg technology has expanded the opportunities available for amputee runners and can help them reach new heights. If you want to learn about prosthetic running blades or devices in general, our team is more than happy to help.

Contact PrimeCare in Albuquerque & Las Cruces for athletic prosthetic leg solutions.

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A grandfather with a prosthesis walks with his grandchildren.