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Sports Prosthetics

A Performance Prosthetics Guide for Amputee Athletes

Sports Prosthetics for Every Activity Level and Goal

From surgery and rehabilitation to physical therapy and exercise, we’re committed to helping amputees participate in any sport that they choose.

One of the top questions we hear from these active amputees is: How can a sports-specific prosthetic help me achieve my athletic goals? Whether you are looking to get back into sports after an amputation or are seeking to begin participating in sports for health reasons, specialized prosthetics can play an important role in your journey. 

At MCOP, we are proud sponsors of organizations like Disabled Sports USA and the Challenged Athletes Foundation because we believe in the power of sport to empower amputees. Our founder, Mike Corcoran, is a former Olympic athlete himself who has devoted his life to helping amputees achieve their dreams. While it can be daunting to imagine becoming active in sports as an amputee, the combined dedication of our prosthetists and our physical therapy partners can provide you with all of the tools and training to achieve your goals.

From the very beginning, we work to discover your unique prosthetic needs and mobility goals. We build prosthetic devices that help amputees continue to thrive in the sports that they love, whether that’s running, swimming, biking, skiing, golfing, climbing, or any kind of team sports. By choosing components from leading prosthetic manufacturers that balance optimal functionality with minimal weight, we are able to ensure that everyone, from Olympians to everyday athletes, get a high-performance solution.

Below is a helpful guide outlining our process of getting amputees back to peak performance levels, starting with amputation and therapy and moving all the way to selecting and using the ideal prosthetic device. Wherever you are in your journey, we hope that you find it useful in answering your questions and that it helps you visualize a path to achieving your physical and sports goals as an amputee.

Contact Our Sports Prosthetists

Please note that while the information provided here is provided from years of experience and trusted sources, almost every case is different. As such, the material provided here is only intended for informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice. Since every person’s presentation or case is different, we recommend an in-person consultation to discuss what options might be best suited to meet your needs.

Our Approach to Sports Prosthetics

Decades of intensive experience and access to the latest prosthetic technologies has taught us that achieving and surpassing your sports and activity goals relies on 4 key ingredients: 

  • Preparation
  • Motivation
  • Expertise
  • Technology 

Pre-Amputation Therapy Considerations

As with any amputation procedure, but of particular importance to athletic amputees, preoperative conditioning can help improve strength and flexibility surrounding the amputation location. The first step is to arrange a physical therapy session in which you or your family member will be instructed on how to best prepare for your upcoming amputation. Your therapist will show you some specific exercises leading up to the surgery. They can also suggest ways to strengthen other parts of your body like conditioning your non-dominant limb for increased usage if your dominant limb is being removed, or vice versa.

Post-Operative Therapy & Training

Post-surgical therapy can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the amputated limb and amputation level. During these initial weeks/months, MCOP’s prosthetists help patients understand how to care for their residual limb and prosthetic devices. Amputees are taught how to properly exercise and rebuild the muscles surrounding their amputation area.

While every patient has unique needs and motivations when it comes to post-amputation therapy and recovery, we find that athletes are often the most motivated when it comes to putting in the time and effort needed to get back to peak performance levels. This inner drive and competitive fire not only helps to expedite the recovery time and strengthen the residual limb, but also inspires your care team at MCOP to always give our best effort to help you reach your goals.

Personalized Treatment

Despite this shared motivation to recover, therapy and training for each and every athlete is unique. After all, ice climbers, runners, or swimmers all have very different movements to relearn or refine than competitive weightlifters do, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accommodate them all.

If, for example, your goal revolves around an upcoming sporting event, competition, or extreme journey, we will work with you to ensure you are prepared, trained, and conditioned to handle the challenges ahead. After your adventure, we’ll listen closely to any feedback you might have regarding the prosthetic system’s performance and continue tweaking all that we can until you get the absolute most out of your new prosthetic limb.

Initial Prosthetic Fitting & Usage

Prosthetic services can begin as soon as 2 weeks from surgery, depending on the length of the recovery. In some cases, an immediate or early post-operative prosthetic may be most appropriate. Ideally, you should try to begin using the prosthesis within 30 days of surgery, which allows you to more quickly adapt to your new life with the device.

MCOP prosthetists will work closely with you to ensure your prosthetic system is not only ready for general usage, but also ensure that any specialty sport-ready devices will meet your athletic needs and goals.

Selecting a Prosthetic System

For athletes, selecting the perfect prosthesis or prosthetic system is all about what will best fit your lifestyle and activities.

In many instances, athletes can use the same prosthetic socket and device for both everyday usage and sports. Still, many patients opt for highly-specialized and innovative devices or sockets (and accessories like sleeves, etc.) to use separately. This can provide amputees with unique options for specific activities, motions, and sports, without having to retire their trusty all-purpose devices used in daily life.

How Advanced Prosthetics Help You Get Back To Your Favorite Sports 

For new and life-long amputees alike, the latest advancements in prosthetic technology have made it possible to not only participate in a large range of sporting activities, but do so competitively and with confidence. Athletes have been competing in Paralympic events for the majority of the last century, but modern technology has provided amputees with even better tools to compete at an even higher level. To date, 15 paralympic athletes have competed in both paralympic and Olympic events

Olympic Athletes Trust MCOP
Jack Wallace was a member of the gold medal winning USA team in Para ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

Indeed, today’s most advanced prosthetic devices come extremely close to emulating natural human movement, including complex hand and limb manipulations that require great agility, adaptability, and speed. The use of lightweight materials like carbon fiber allow for great speed and ease of use when you need flexible joints and solid range of motion. Meanwhile, the application of advanced microprocessors can help amputees sense and adapt to a number of different variables like never before. Truly, the sports-centric options for active amputees come in many shapes and types, and each is designed to help the wearer reach his or her maximum ability.

Assistive Equipment Options

Specialty Assistive Devices (Non-Prosthetics) 

Though MCOP’s primary specialty is prosthetics and orthotics, there are several innovative sports equipment designs that assist amputees and/or mobility-impaired individuals. Not quite considered prosthetics, these assistive devices consist of sports equipment designed specifically for athletes with mobility impairments.

For example, assistive devices can include:

  • Light-weight wheelchairs for racing, basketball, and tennis.
  • Rugged, all-terrain wheelchairs for hiking, snow, or sand sports.
  • Handcycles or bicycles designed to be steered and pedaled using only the rider’s arms (also called recumbent bicycles).
  • Seated cross-country skis with specialty tips that dig into the snow to help the rider push forward.
  • Gym equipment and exercise machines designed for users in a wheelchair.
  • Paramobile devices such as specialized golf carts with support for standing assist players with mobility disabilities.
  • One-handed fishing rods assist fishers who have limited mobility.

These, and many more, assistive devices can be used with or without prosthetic devices, depending on the amputation level, individual preferences, etc. 

Lower-Limb Prosthetic Devices

When it comes to prosthetic devices themselves, there are several options for lower-limb amputees. Modern prosthetic devices continue to improve upon old designs, and there is likely already a device on the market that can assist you in getting back to performing in your preferred sport or activity.

Prosthetic Feet

Most prosthetic leg systems for athletes are based around the most common things we all do with our legs: walking, running, cutting, and jumping. However, devices designed for this type of usage specifically within an athletic context can typically be modified for almost any land sport. There are likely several sports prosthetic devices that many people don’t realize even exist.

Advanced prosthetic devices for running are usually a curved blade design/shape and constructed from carbon fiber. This provides a nice balance of flexibility and strength to withstand high-impact activities like sprinting and jumping.

Top prosthetic device manufacturers like Ossur and Ottobock both currently build devices specifically for running sports, and partnerships with apparel and equipment manufacturers have further improved upon these unique designs. Nike, for example, provides shoe-like attachments for Ossur devices.

Some of our favorite running prosthetic devices include: 

  • Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah® – Designed for general and long-distance running or jogging. 
  • Ossur Cheetah® Xtreme™ – Designed for short-distance sprinting. 
  • Ossur Cheetah® Xtend™ – Designed for longer distance sprinting. 
  • Ossur Flex-Run™– Equipped with a Nike sole, this do-it-all device is designed for all-around running, sprinting, jumping, trail running and more. 
  • Ottobock Challenger 1E95 – A true multi-purpose foot that is perfect for everyday use, and suitable for sprinting and recreational sports. 
  • Ottobock Runner – Resilient and lightweight, the Runner’s blade is adjustable along the socket adaptor so athletes can customize the dynamic response and spring stiffness of the running prosthesis to their individual needs.
  • Ottobock Sprinter – Designed for with the resiliency and high-energy return needed for sprinting, the Sprinter is available in various levels of stiffness based on body weight and size.

Outside of running and related motions, we’ve found the following sports prosthetics to be very effective for their respective sports: 

View More Below Knee Prosthetics

Prosthetic Knees

The knee is a complex joint to recreate. Whether it’s an Ottobock, Ossur, or another type of system, modern knee joint prosthetics can usually replicate some of the natural movements of the human knee through highly sophisticated hydraulics.

Microprocessor knees and other types of powered knee devices are typically waterproof as well, meaning you don’t have to worry about any sort of failure when wet or even when submerged with prosthetics designed for use in water. 

  • Ottobock Sport Knee Joint – Available in two versions (3S80 Sport and 3S80=1 Sport with Low Viscosity), this prosthetic knee for athletes is optimized for running sports with powerful rotation hydraulics. 
  • Ossur Cheetah® Knee – Built with rapid flexion and extension for running and sprinting, the Ossur Cheetah Knee also allows for controlled deceleration. This adds stability and enables users to participate in a wide range of sports activities and the ability to easily transition from walking to running. 
  • XT9 by SymbioTechs – Stable and adjustable, the XT9 prosthetic knee is a multifunctional device for high impact activities and one of the only prosthetic knees that can realistically mimic the functions of real-life quadriceps. Wearers will find that the XT9 knee reacts quickly, making the perfect all-around device for skiing and snowboarding, but is also more than suitable for scuba diving, surfing, climbing, or whatever extreme activity you can dream up. 
  • OttoBock X3 – This incredibly durable and versatile system is designed for all types of usage, including running, walking, swimming. Though it is battery-powered, the X3 is also resilient to dust and sand. Users can adjust the settings of this particular prosthetic using their smartphone. 
  • Bartlett Tendon Prosthetics Knees – The BTK knee prosthetics are very popular amongst serious cyclists because of the symmetrical peddling design without compensatory methods.

There are several different types of prosthetic knee options and technologies, and though they aren’t listed above, many of the most common knee devices are appropriate for light-impact sports like golf, jogging, etc.

Other lower-limb prosthetics for sports include devices for driving, hockey, skating, in-line skating, paragliding, horseback riding, and more.

View More Above Knee Prosthetics

Arms & Hand Sports Prosthetics

Similar to how lower limb, hand, and arm prosthetics for upper-limb amputees can be designed for a wide array of activities, arm and hand prosthetics can also be used in a number of activities – from brushing your teeth to ice climbing!

In regards to sports in particular, however, some of the most popular arm and hand prosthetic devices include:

Mert Lawwill Device

This specialized prosthetic hand attachment helps users to ride a bicycle, motorcycle, or snowmobile. It can attach to virtually any form of handlebars with great ease, giving the user full control over the equipment they are operating.  

TRS Prosthetics Black Iron Series

This series of devices is intended for use in heavy lifting and weight training applications. Models range from the Black Iron Lite, an all-purpose fitness device that can handle light weight lifting activities, to the burly Black Iron Master, more suitable for high intensity weight training for serious or competitive weightlifters. 

TRS F-ISHI

As the name might suggest, this prosthetic device is made for fishing. It is designed to hold almost any rod securely in place with adjustable straps and a ratcheting system and even simulates the natural torquing sensation of fishing with a wrist. 

TRS & TAD Baseball Prosthetics

TRS Prosthetics also manufactures a series of devices for baseball players in the field (TRS Hi Fly Fielder) and batting (TRS Pinch Hitter and Grand Slam Series). The Double-Play, manufactured by Texas Assistive Devices (TAD), is also a popular choice. 

TRS Golfing Series

For serious golfers, the TRS EAGLE series of prosthetic hand devices adapts to a wide range of grip styles and player needs.

Shooting and Archery

For accuracy in shooting and archery sports, both TRS and TAD have great options.

View More Arm Prosthetic Options

Obtaining Insurance Coverage

Some of the most common questions we hear regarding any type of prosthetic procedure or device concerns insurance. If you have a work-related injury, your team can work with your workmen’s compensation case manager to obtain the best device for your needs. It may be determined that multiple devices are required to allow full function based on your goals. Whether you have private or government insurance, VA, Tricare, or Medicare/Medicaid, prosthetic systems are typically covered to some extent.

New insurance codes were recently introduced for use with sports prosthetics specifically, and we work closely with our patients to help ensure that everything is properly coded so that they can get the financial assistance needed. We often see that insurance will cover terminal devices, and we can modify general usage devices as needed to comply with both insurance coverage requirements and your individual needs as an athlete, whether that’s modifying the system to work with your anticipated activity usage or to simply making it easier to attach to an activity-specific device.

Regardless, MCOP’s prosthetic insurance experts will work to obtain pre-authorization from your insurance regarding the products that are best suited for your lifestyle. It is also important to have your team check your benefits to make sure that there are no exclusions in your insurance policy.

Para-Athlete Support, Organizations & Competitions

MCOP partners with various organizations to provide you with the most complete and thorough list of helpful resources available, and we are proud to partner with organizations who are constantly pushing the limits of what is possible for amputees participating in sports. 

DSUSA provides national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs. Their website is full of great sports related resources for amputees, including a comprehensive list of adaptive sports, adaptive equipment and more. 

You can also browse through our other resources for amputees, or contact us and we’ll point you in the right direction to get the answers you seek. 

If you are interested in sports prosthetics, or know of someone who is, contact us for more information.

Contact our Sports Prosthetic Specialists

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