Exercising for better mobility and reduced falls in lower limb amputees

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Researchers from the University of Hull have begun a project to develop personalised exercise programmes for lower limb amputees in Hull and the surrounding area.

The project, led by Dr Natalie Vanicek with PhD student Zoe Schafer from the Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, and in collaboration with the Hull & East Yorkshire NHS Trust, is investigating how exercise can lead to better mobility and reduce falls over a one year period.

At the end of the project, the researchers hope to develop a structured exercise programme in the Hull area so that amputees can continue to reap the physical and social benefits of group-based exercise, whilst promoting falls awareness and prevention.

By using sophisticated motion analysis and balance equipment in the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Hull, researchers have measured participants’ baseline performance on several common activities, including level and stair walking, sit-to-stand, maintaining balance and muscle strength. The baseline profiles are being used to help design individualised exercise programmes for the participants.

Three-dimensional gait analysis of a lower limb amputee participant before the exercise intervention

Three-dimensional gait analysis of a lower limb amputee participant before the exercise intervention

To date, thirteen amputee participants, both above- and below-knee, have been tested. Seven participants have been allocated into the exercise group, while six participants are acting as controls and are not participating in the exercise programme.

The exercise group attend the laboratory twice a week for supervised exercise classes, and complete two exercise sessions at home.

The preliminary data has shown that participants in the exercise group are able to walk for longer, have improved balance and increased muscle strength in the lower limbs. They are also feeling more confident at performing daily tasks. The exercise classes encourage a sense of belonging to a group. To date, no participant has reported a fall.

Once the 12-week programme is complete, all participants will repeat the baseline tests to quantify how beneficial the exercise programme has been at improving functional performance. The researchers will also monitor the number of falls reported for at least 12 months.

The study is ongoing and the researchers continue to recruit amputee participants from the local NHS Artificial Limb Unit and with the help of NHS amputee physiotherapists.

Financial support for this study has been granted by a local charity, Help for Health, and by the British Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Amputee Rehabilitation, a professional network of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

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