person with a prosthetic leg tying their shoe on a trail

Revolutionizing Sports and Athletics: Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics in Competitive Performance

Find Orthotics and Prosthetics Near You That Support Your Active Lifestyle

Custom prosthetics and orthotics are responsible for helping those with orthopedic issues and limb loss reclaim their quality of life and mobility. However, the capabilities of these medical devices didn’t allow for complex motion or athletic competition until 1985, when Van Phillips invented and patented the Flex-Foot.

The Flex-Foot accomplished two historically relevant things in the world of prosthetics. First, it established proof of concept that custom prosthetics can support high-functioning activities. Second, it opened the doors for engineers and innovators to lend their talents to the burgeoning field of custom orthotics and prosthetics.

Since the 1980s, prosthetics and orthotics have evolved beyond utilitarian purposes by incorporating durable materials and advanced designs that integrate modern technologies. In fact, many prosthetic running devices are more aerodynamic and far lighter than a human leg, which some have claimed is a competitive advantage.

To shed some additional light on the subject, the following breaks down the most significant developments in the world of custom orthotics and prosthetics and their impact in competitive sports.

Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics in Athletics

The main benefit of custom prosthetics and orthotics is that they enable athletes to realize their full potential; however, the two medical solutions accomplish this in different ways. For example, custom orthotics help relieve pain, discomfort, and gait issues associated with:

  • Misshapen or deformed feet
  • Flat feet
  • High arches
  • Foot and/or ankle injury
  • Arthritis
  • Bunions
  • Hammertoes

Custom orthotics are personalized using a mold so that every contour of the wearer’s foot is supported for optimal movement. The precise fit of custom orthotics also mitigates injury and enhances athletic performance.

Although custom orthotics have helped countless athletes reclaim their ability to run, jump, and compete, the advancements in the field of custom prosthetics are even more impressive. Many of the innovations made in the field of prosthetics are the reason disabled athletes have competed at the highest level, including the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Noteworthy highlights include:

  • 1970s to 1990s – The two-decade period where the custom prosthetics industry converted to stronger, more lightweight materials, such as resins, polycarbonates, and plastics. Synthetic sockets were created during this time to provide wearers with a fully customized fit.
  • 1988 – The Flex-Foot is used at the Paralympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. It marks the first time a high-functioning prosthetic is used in elite-level competition.
  • 2000 to 2014 – Prosthetic designs continued to advance with the rollout of the lightweight running blade, legs, and feet that can navigate different types of terrain, and prosthetic limbs outfitted with sensors and microprocessors that enable fluid movement.
  • 2005 – Sarah Reinertsen used the Flex-Run Foot combined with the Total Knee 2100 to become the first female amputee to compete in the Ironman competition.
  • 2007 – The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that Oscar Pistorius (aka “Blade Runner”) could not compete alongside able-bodied athletes because his prosthetic devices gave him an unfair advantage. This ruling was later overturned after a study was conducted that determined high-functioning prosthetic legs and blades provide no competitive advantage over able-bodied competitors.
  • 2012 – Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
  • 2020 – Johannes Floors claimed the record in the 100- and 400-meter competitions at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo using a similar blade-style prostheses as Oscar Pistorius.

There has been much debate about whether prosthetics used for athletics gives competitors an unfair advantage over their able-bodied counterparts. Historically, only a small sample size of disabled athletes have come close to matching the performance of non-amputee athletes. For example, Paralympic sprinter Johannes Floors recorded a personal best of 21.04 seconds in the 200-meter. By comparison, Usain Bolt’s fastest time for the same event is 19.19 seconds.

Where to Get Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics Near You in Overland Park

Regaining the ability to walk, use stairs, and navigate different types of terrain are just a few of the benefits that custom orthotics and prosthetics grant to wearers. For those who are ready to reclaim their mobility, the best first step is to meet with an experienced prosthetist.

With over 25 years of industry experience, Dan Cotton of Cotton Orthotic and Prosthetic Associates provides affordable and fully customized solutions that get patients back on their feet. As an ABC-certified prosthetist and orthotist, Dan can help guide you through every part of your journey – from your prosthesis fitting to selecting a prosthetic device that supports your activities of daily living.

Cotton Orthotic and Prosthetic Associates is located at 6311 West 110th Street in Overland Park, KS. Contact us to arrange an appointment today by using the contact form or by calling (913) 338-2672.

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