A Guide to Activity-Specific Prosthetics for Sports

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Climb the tallest mountain. Surf the highest waves. Run marathons. All of these feats are possible to those with limb differences thanks to the ingenuity of sports prosthetic designers.

Not every sport requires you to invest in specialized prosthetics – some modern prosthetic devices that are designed for everyday use also allow wearers to engage in rigorous activity. For example, microprocessor knee and foot technology for lower-limb prosthetics provide a natural gait to the wearer and allow them to run across a field or take a rigorous hike.

However, when a day-wear prosthetic can’t help you go the extra mile, or there’s a risk of damaging your prosthetic, there are various companies that produce activity-specific prosthetics to really help you get in the game.

We also encourage you to look into our guide to adaptive sports when you’re looking for variations on these activities designed for those with multiple limb loss or other accessibility considerations.

Read on to learn about the many upper and lower-limb sports prosthetics that help make sports accessible to those with limb differences.

Running Blades

Run like the wind on blades of carbon.

Running blades, pioneered by American inventor Van Phillips in the 70s, were one of the first prosthetic designs developed exclusively for sports. This innovation spurred a new wave of prosthetic design that enabled amputees to compete in sports and live more active lifestyles.

Phillips shied away from prosthetics that mimicked human bones and focused on replicating ligaments and tendons. Running blades are forged from 80 layers of carbon fiber – harder than steel and able to replicate the swing and stance of natural running.

Running blades may also be a suitable option for sports listed below that require lots of running such as basketball or baseball.

Learn more about running blades and Van Phillips in our related blog: The design and controversy of running blade prosthetics.

Swimming Prosthetics

Prosthetic legs can help balance out the power of your stroke, have fun water skiing or allow you to go with your kids into the pool, but there are a few things to consider.

Image Credit: Bio-Tech.

Many modern prosthetics, including those with microprocessor technology, are completely waterproof – but “water-resistant” prosthetics are still susceptible to water damage. One low-cost option is to look into waterproof prosthetic protectors for existing prosthetics.

Specialized attachments can also give you an edge in the water and power up your exercise. Lower-limb amputees can use a flipper foot attachment to really sail through the water, and upper-limb amputees can similarly use a fin hand attachment.

Climbing Prosthetics

Like Phillips and his running blades, the earliest climbing prosthetics were born of necessity. Professional climber Hugh Herr lost both of his legs below the knee after suffering frostbite in a climbing accident. Determined to scale mountains once again, he designed his own prosthetics to once again rise to the top. Like Phillips, he realized that his prosthetics didn’t need to mimic human limbs – his early designs had small feet with spiked tips to allow him to gain a foothold on ledges as small as the size of a coin.

Today Herr works for MIT in their biomechatronics research group, continuing to innovate in the field of prosthetics.

In that tradition of the need to climb despite all odds, there are various upper and lower limb prosthetics available that enable climbing – though many amputees choose to climb without wearing a prosthetic at all!

Many leg prosthetics are suitable for climbing along with a rock-climbing foot attachment, though some above-knee climbing-specific prosthetics are set up in “stubby” style, with the foot right below the residual limb, removing the need for knee considerations.

Source: Amplitude.

Upper limb amputees can take advantage of hook attachments for their prosthetic that is designed to pivot and adapt to various angles and edges.

Paddling Prosthetics For Canoe or Kayak

Whether looking for a leisurely paddle by a cottage or the rush of white-water kayaking, there are upper limb prosthetic attachments available.

Various prosthetic hooks, clips and spatula devices allow you to handle your paddle with ease and help upper-limb amputees tear through the water.

Image Credit: Instructables.

Downhill Ski and Snowboard Prosthetics

For passionate skiers, many prosthetic companies offer leg prostheses with flexion and extension movements specifically designed for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Many of these prostheses are also graded for wakeboarding or waterskiing since the motions are similar.

The foot is designed to fit properly into ski and snowboard bindings – below-knee amputees can purchase a foot attachment to work with existing prostheses.

Image Credit: Disabled Sports USA.

Golfing Prosthetics

There are arm prosthetics available for those who want to hit the links and enjoy time outdoors. Available in both right and left-hand configurations, these prosthetics include a metal tube “hand” that slips over the club’s shaft, and the coupling is optimized for the biomechanical action of a powerful golf stroke.

Image Credit: Troppman Prosthetics.

It is worth noting, however, that many one-armed golfers learn to play without a prosthetic:

Basketball Prosthetics

Basketball prosthetic hand attachments come in different configurations but are all designed to capture the shape and size of the ball and provide surfaces for handling and dribbling. These hands also typically can be angled and have their extension tweaked to suit individual needs.

Image Credit: Arm Dynamics.

Volleyball Prosthetics

Volleyball prosthetic hand attachments are designed to allow the player to serve, bump, block and spike with ease. The attachments are made of flexible rubber, allowing it to mimic the various hand positions required in competitive volleyball play.

Baseball Prosthetics

There are prosthetic hand attachments that cover all the bases: pitching, catching, and batting. Pitching prosthetics are designed in different sizes for hardball and softball to cup the ball snugly for a proper throw. Batting prosthetics, designed for both right and left-hand configurations, have a clip hand to allow for the proper grasp and flexible coupling to allow for a full swing.

Image Credit: 3DPrint.com.

Hockey Prosthetics

There are different prosthetic hand attachments available that are suitable for both ice and floor hockey. For upper limb amputees, there are top of the stick devices that slip over the first few inches of the stick, are flexible, and store energy similar to a human wrist. There are also plastic grips designed to snap on and off the body of a hockey stick with flexible couplings to ensure properly mobility in handling and swinging.

Lower limb amputees who want to play ice hockey can take advantage of foot attachments with an ice skate attached.

Image Credit: Instagram @craig.cunningham14 via Arizona Sports.

Get More Information on Sports Prosthetics and Adaptive Sports

Amputee Coalition is dedicated to ensuring those who have limb differences or have undergone limb loss can live full lives. Be sure to reach out to one of our information specialists for free resources on how to start in a new sport and where you can find activity-specific prostheses.

For further inspiration, be sure to learn about these famous athletes with limb differences who made an impact in their sport.

Featured Image Credit: Pinterest. Bob Radocy of TRS Inc.