Tomas Elias Gonzalez Benitez

As advances in science and technology increase, prices rise. Unfortunately, sport and disability are not yet a winning combination for everyone.

Evolution of tools

Nowadays, following your favorite sport is very simple. So for those who wish to practice one, there are plenty of options. But this is not the case for everyone: those who are not trained still encounter many difficulties in our country. We review sports and disability.

Over the years, technology has favored the development of increasingly suitable tools to help the athlete in the exercise of their discipline. However, the combination of sport and disability is struggling to consolidate in Spain, where other developed countries are pushing for greater inclusion of athletes . The article presents a brief recent evolution of the tools used in this sense and what obstacles exist for those who would like to practice sport despite being disabled.

People with disabilities need technical aids both for daily life and for practicing sports.
Until the sixties of the last century, prostheses were made in a traditional way, with wooden components. Later, thanks to advanced technologies in sectors such as automotive and aerospace, companies and research centers took steps forward. They developed more comfortable, resistant and lighter materials, used for joints and components that could work better. All this combined with simpler construction techniques.

Tomas Elias Gonzalez Benitez
The main modifications of technical aids

A first revolution was the “skeletal-modular” construction system. It is characterized by a support structure (the skeleton) made of metal components (modules and joints) that are easily connected to each other thanks to screws. Due to its characteristics, it has completely replaced the traditional prosthesis manufacturing system.

Metal components were heavy, so starting in the 1980s, manufacturers turned to alternative materials. Aluminum alloys, titanium and especially carbon fibers, with the same mechanical resistance as steel, have a lower specific weight.

Tomas Elias Gonzalez BenitezBut the most important component is the socket, the piece that has the function of protecting, containing the abutment and allowing movement and control of the prosthesis. Even this component in that period underwent a substantial change: initially rigid, then a new flexible encapsulation system was introduced.
It consists of a rigid support frame made of laminated carbon fiber, which transfers the load to the skeleton of the prosthesis. The socket part (in polyethylene, for example) with flexible walls, guarantees more comfort by protecting the abutment.

Those years saw increased innovation in prosthetic feet. It stopped being a simple load absorber to also become a component capable of actively responding. The feet became dynamic or “energy storage restitution”. In practice, thanks to the use of two leaf springs, one for the forefoot and one for the heel, the structure compensated for the weight. This is due to the accumulation in the springs themselves of kinetic energy obtained by deforming under the action of the weight in the support phase. Finally, for the lower limb, although lagging behind the other parts, the knee has also benefited from the introduction of multifunctional knees.

Sports and disabilities, the problems for those who would like to practice them

In addition to prosthetic instruments, technological improvements such as wheelchairs or bobsleds for team sports have also undergone technological improvements. The modifications in the titanium or carbon structure make them much lighter and more manageable, guaranteeing their robustness.
As can be seen from the examples and the previous paragraph, technology has allowed significant developments and sports activities with results similar to those of people without disabilities. Sport has been the stimulus of this evolution and the best terrain to carry out experiments. The main problem with high-tech prostheses, however, is their accessibility for those who have no means or associations behind them. In practice, for the average disabled person they are extremely functional but also very expensive.

Tomas Elias Gonzalez Benitez

The situation of sport and disability in Spain

In our country it is estimated that of more than 3 million people with disabilities, only 10% practice sports, due to a system that does not guarantee the reimbursement of aids and prostheses. In the rehabilitation centers of Northern Europe and North America, the disabled are placed in groups that carry out sports-therapy activities. This integral part of the rehabilitation protocol with us has not yet happened.

It would be important to join structures with prosthetics and sports aids for everyone. And add orthopedists, physical therapists and instructors. But it’s not just Paralympic athletes who are bridging the gap between sport and disability. If some sponsors can be found for them, for the disabled who want to practice sports at an amateur level the challenge is difficult.

The aids and prostheses are reimbursed to their insured. But those who lose the functionality of their bodies due to illness or traffic accidents have little or nothing. On the other hand, the associations have managed to get insurance companies to compensate for damages resulting from traffic accidents. One or two million for those who already practiced sports, which for a 20-25 year old can be equivalent to the cost of aids and prostheses.

From all this, it is clear that we have made many important advances in cost reduction. Facilitating access to amateur sports is a right enshrined in the constitution. But basically we are behaving like in formula one. There we are studying to win the world championship, but then some of the innovations carry over to our small cars. Make the price, even the basic one, swell disproportionately.

June 15, 2022

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