Systematic Variation of Prosthetic Foot Spring Affects Center-of-Mass Mechanics and Metabolic Cost During Walking
Lower-limb amputees expend more energy to walk than non-amputees and have an elevated risk of secondary disabilities. Insufficient push-off by the prosthetic foot may be a contributing factor. We aimed to systematically study the effect of prosthetic foot mechanics on gait, to gain insight into fundamental prosthetic design principles. We varied a single parameter in isolation, the energy-storing spring in a prototype prosthetic foot, the controlled energy storage and return (CESR) foot, and observed the effect on gait. Subjects walked on the CESR foot with three different springs. We performed parallel studies on amputees and on non-amputees wearing prosthetic simulators. In both groups, spring characteristics similarly affected ankle and body center-of-mass (COM) mechanics and metabolic cost. Softer springs led to greater energy storage, energy return, and prosthetic limb COM push-off work. But metabolic energy expenditure was lowest with a spring of intermediate stiffness, suggesting biomechanical disadvantages to the softest spring despite its greater push-off. Disadvantages of the softest spring may include excessive heel displacements and COM collision losses. We also observed some differences in joint kinetics between amputees and non-amputees walking on the prototype foot. During prosthetic push-off, amputees exhibited reduced energy transfer from the prosthesis to the COM along with increased hip work, perhaps due to greater energy dissipation at the knee. Nevertheless, the results indicate that spring compliance can contribute to push-off, but with biomechanical trade-offs that limit the degree to which greater push-off might improve walking economy.