Newswise — Bilateral lower extremity amputee sprinters outperformed their unilateral competitors in all race finals at recent Paralympics Games, suggesting that high-tech prosthetics provide a distinct athletic advantage, according to a new study presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting in Orlando.

Single-leg amputee sprinters often compete with double-leg competitors in the same races at global athletic competitions, but a question has remained: do modern carbon fiber prosthetics give runners a technological and athletic edge? This study examined the impact of prosthetic configuration on sprinters’ performances in recent Paralympics Games. The researchers hypothesized that bilateral amputee sprinters who used prosthetics would outperform their single-leg competitors, with increasingly evident advantages in the longer races.

“There has been considerable debate as to whether modern energy-storing prostheses confer important competitive advantages to amputee runners ever since prostheses were introduced in para-sports,” said Xiang Li, a student researcher at Yale University School of Public Health and the study’s co-author. How much advantage do these devices offer athletes? This study’s goal was to evaluate the perceived edge.

Ms. Li and her fellow researchers analyzed race speed in lower extremity amputee sprint finals from the Paralympics Games from 1996 to 2016, including 445 race results from 175 sprinters. They found that the differences in race speeds between unilateral and bilateral amputee sprinters were significant in three key races: 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters. As a general comparison, bilateral lower extremity amputee runners ran faster than unilateral counterparts; performance differences were largest in the 200-meter race. This significance level increased as the race distance increased, and the difference did not enlarge over time.

The study’s findings show that bilateral lower extremity amputee runners had significantly better sprint performances than their unilateral counterparts no matter the race or distance. These data raise a new question, said Ms. Li: Should additional classification criteria be developed to create more equal competitive fields in amputee racing events and increase opportunities for para-athletes to compete on a more equal basis?

“Our study shed some new light on the impact of the role of modern carbon fiber prosthetics in the most recent Paralympics, and the results showed that bilateral lower extremity amputee sprinters significantly outperformed their unilateral opponents in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter race finals. Although further research is needed to investigate whether the difference should be attributed to the prosthetics, the consistent outperformance of bilateral amputee runners might suggest that modern prosthetics technology might have given bilateral amputee runners a head start in these competitive sports,” she said.

Prosthetics are a breakthrough innovation for casual runners too. Amputees who were once shut out of sports now may enjoy many athletic activities, Ms. Li added.

“Even if the advance is from the prosthetics, because our study focused on the highest level of competition–Paralympics finals only--we cannot say if the same impact applies to casual runners. Lots of casual amputee runners do not have access to the same kind of technologies or equipment as the Paralympic finalists. It’s not easy to say what their impact for casual runners is without further targeted research.”



The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is a professional society with a mission to create the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery. Its members are leading physicians, researchers, educators and in-training physiatrists from 35 countries. The AAP holds an Annual Meeting, produces a leading medical journal in rehabilitation: AJPM&R, and leads a variety of programs and activities that support and enhance academic physiatry. On March 4-9, 2020, the AAP is hosting the ISPRM World Congress in Orlando, Florida. To learn more about the association, the specialty of physiatry and the World Congress, visit and follow us on Twitter at @AAPhysiatrists.

Meeting Link: ISPRM 2020, March 2020