One of the most common difficulties encountered by lower extremity amputees is not properly loading the socket. Uneven weight distribution between legs is a primary cause of gait deviation and lower back and hip pain. When standing, many amputees keep upwards of 80% of their weight on their sound side, in essence relying upon their prosthetic for balance.
Weight bearing habits are hard to break, but the benefits are worth the effort. Improper weight distribution can lead to significant medical implications. Osteoarthritis, neuropathy, sore development and osteoporosis commonly develop in the "sound side." Over time the abuse borne by the "good side" causes breakdown and can increase the amputees' level of disability.
The mind naturally wants to avoid relying on the prosthetic; in fact, it feels counter intuitive to fully load the prosthesis. Research has proven that equal weight bearing will not be achieved naturally by the amputee. Rather, he or she must be taught to learn the sensation of fully loading the prosthesis.
Utilizing two scales, the individual can practice putting equal weight into both limbs. Sensors are available that can be placed between the foot shell and the shoe. When the prosthesis is loaded with a predetermined amount of weight, the sensor goes off. If you own a Wii, there is an easier, and more enjoyable, way to learn to load your prosthesis.
The Wii Fit game comes with a balance board which is used in a variety of game applications for the Wii Fit and other exercise themed games. The game and board have proven to be an effective method for amputees to develop equal weight bearing. Military hospitals and rehabilitation centers around the country are beginning to utilize the Wii fit for prosthetic training.
During the initial set up for the Wii Fit game, and during each subsequent log in, the player is subjected to a variety of "tests." One of these activities evaluates whether or not the players weight is being evenly distributed between their feet. Immediate visual feedback on the screen is provided as the individual attempts to equally load both feet.
The balance games, ranging from skiing to jumping penguins, all force the player to shift weight between their feet. The avatar will not react correctly if the weight on the balance board is not correctly shifted. The Wii fit program advances as the player's skills increase. When a balance skill is mastered a new goal is introduced.
The Wii fit has proven to be an effective way for amputees to refine their balance skills. Learning to properly load the socket, and maintaining equal weight bearing throughout the daily activities will help conserve the sound side, staving off possible injury or increased disability.