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New prosthetic foot gives user a natural gait

Evan Blass

With 7% percent of the U.S. population suffering from diabetes, and 82,000 non-traumatic lower limb amputations of diabetics in 2002 alone, the need for natural-looking and -feeling prostheses has never been higher. One of the trickiest prosthetic devices to design, in terms of correlation to an actual human body part, has been the foot, which traditionally has relied on a three-axis system that allows for movement on rough terrain but gives the wearer an unnatural gait. Well researchers at Stuttgart, Germany's Fraunhofer Technology Development Group claim to have overcome this drawback with a prosthetic foot that mimics the minute inward rolling of a real foot from heel-to-ball that occurs mostly unconsciously during each step we take. Even more impressively, unlike the computerized C-Leg, the foot designed by Dr. Urs Schneider and his team is completely mechanical and devoid of expensive electronics. Users who have tested the foot in clinical trials report less pain in other body parts as a result of its corrective properties, and Dr. Schneider says that "hardly anyone notices that the person is wearing an artificial limb."

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