The fastest runner on artificial legs: Different limbs similar function?

P. G. Weyand, M. W. Bundle, C. P. McGowan, A. Grabowski, M. B. Brown, R. Kram, and H. Herr. The fastest runner on artificial legs: Different limbs, similar function?, Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 107, no. 3, pp. 903–911, Sep. 2009.


The fastest runner on artificial legs: different limbs, similar function? J Appl Physiol 107: 903–911, 2009. First published June 18, 2009; doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00174.2009.—The recent competitive successes of a bilateral, transtibial amputee sprint runner who races with modern running prostheses has triggered an international controversy regarding the relative function provided by his artificial limbs. Here, we conducted three tests of functional similarity between this amputee sprinter and competitive male runners with intact limbs: the metabolic cost of running, sprinting endurance, and running mechanics. Metabolic and mechanical data, respectively, were acquired via indirect calorimetry and ground reaction force measurements during constant-speed, level treadmill running. First, we found that the mean gross metabolic cost of transport of our amputee sprint subject (174.9 ml O2 kg1 km1 ; speeds: 2.5– 4.1 m/s) was only 3.8% lower than mean values for intact-limb elite distance runners and 6.7% lower than for subelite distance runners but 17% lower than for intact-limb 400-m specialists [210.6 (SD 13.2) ml O2 kg1 km1 ]. Second, the speeds that our amputee sprinter maintained for six all-out, constant-speed trials to failure (speeds: 6.6 –10.8 m/s; durations: 2–90 s) were within 2.2 (SD 0.6)% of those predicted for intact-limb sprinters. Third, at sprinting speeds of 8.0, 9.0, and 10.0 m/s, our amputee subject had longer foot-ground contact times [14.7 (SD 4.2)%], shorter aerial [26.4 (SD 9.9)%] and swing times [15.2 (SD 6.9)%], and lower stance-averaged vertical forces [19.3 (SD 3.1)%] than intact-limb sprinters [top speeds 10.8 vs. 10.8 (SD 0.6) m/s]. We conclude that running on modern, lower-limb sprinting prostheses appears to be physiologically similar but mechanically different from running with intact limbs.

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