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High Heels a Snap with New Prosthetic Foot

A team that includes U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) researchers is developing a new prosthetic foot that will give individuals with lower-limb amputations the option to wear shoes of varying heel heights.

“Sixty-two percent of women say they wear heels over five centimeters,” said Andrew Hansen, PhD, director of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Program at the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System, Minnesota, and principal investigator on the research team. “For people with a lower-limb amputation, the situation is different. Their prosthetic limb is usually fixed to the given heel height of the shoe worn during alignment in the clinic. Patients can’t easily change to a shoe with a different heel height without experiencing balance issues. That is, if they can get the new shoe onto the prosthetic foot in the first place.”

Hansen, whose interest in prosthetics is a result of growing up in rural Iowa around farmers who had lost limbs in machinery accidents, started working on a new kind of prosthetic foot while at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Chicago. Hansen teamed with Margrit Meier, PhD, now with the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway, and other researchers from Northwestern University to develop the original Shape & Roll prosthetic foot. Shape & Roll prosthetic feet are designed to respond during walking like a natural foot would, curving upward with each step, like the rocker on a rocking chair. The team’s recent work expanded the Shape & Roll design, allowing it to accommodate a wide range of shoe heel heights. The results will be published later this year in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development.

“Having the ability to change your shoes, whether for employment reasons or just for looks, is an important choice,” Hansen said. “That goes for men as well as women. This study focused on high heels, but the results work just as well for cowboy boots.”

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