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Researchers Say Use of Lower-Limb Prostheses Impacts Competitive Running

A team of researchers from Bournemouth University (BU), Poole, England, have been assessing the impact of lower-limb prostheses on competitive running, specifically looking at whether athletes with running blades have an unfair advantage when running against able-bodied athletes. A 2014 study by the same authors provided statistical evidence suggesting that the design of the running blades and the distance of the event that they are used in have a significant impact on the outcome of track events, whether the individual has a unilateral amputation or bilateral amputations. Now the BU team has continued this topic of inquiry. The results of their latest work were published June 16 in the open-access, online journal Sports.

For the latest study, the researchers analyzed the performances of individuals with lower-limb amputations in the 100m, 200m, and 400m running events from the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Paralympic Games. Four hypotheses were pursued: whether the running performance of individuals with lower-limb amputations over three consecutive Paralympic Games has changed; whether an individual with bilateral lower-limb amputations has a competitive advantage over an individual with a unilateral lower-limb amputation; whether individuals in various classifications have different performance levels-while also taking into consideration the effect of blade classification; and whether different performance levels were obtained in the final round of competition in comparison to the qualification heats. The three classifications examined were T42 (unilateral transfemoral amputation), T43 (bilateral transtibial amputations), and T44 (transtibial amputation); it should be noted that during the Paralympic Games analyzed in this study, the T43 and T44 categories were combined in the male running events mainly due to the low participation numbers in the T43 category.

The findings confirmed those of the first study, said a BU press release. Further, the overview allowed the researchers to gain a greater depth of information about the way athletes use their lower-limb prostheses when running and whether running performance has changed over time as prosthetic technology has advanced.

A statistical analysis of the results from the three consecutive Paralympic Games do not show any significant change in the general performance of athletes, according to the study’s authors. It was identified that the performance of athletes in the qualification heat did not change substantially when the same athletes ran again in the final. The statistical analyses in this research indicated that athletes with transtibial amputations consistently outperformed those with transfemoral amputations. Finally, the study results demonstrate that in longer distance running competitions, individuals with bilateral lower-limb amputations have an advantage compared to those with unilateral lower-limb amputations. On the basis of the statistical analyses in this study, the researchers proposed that future Paralympic Games should be undertaken with separate, rather than combined, events for the T42, T43, and T44 classifications.