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Rock Climbing Study May Aid Amputees 

Lisa Greene

The efforts of faculty at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences are making headlines. The school's innovative study on the efficiency of prosthetics and rock climbing was featured prominently in the St. Petersburg Times -- the front page story of the newspaper's July 23, 2008 edition. The study monitors the movements of rock-climbing athletes with above-the-knee amputations to determine which of several types of prosthetic devices is least taxing for them to wear while climbing. It's part of the work on prosthetics and orthotics at USF being funded with a $1-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The results could benefit more than athletes participating in the study, because rock climbing is emerging as a potential rehabiliative treatment for the increasing numbers of soldiers with limb loss returning from the war in Iraq. uould yield invaluable data beyond of physical therapy and sports medicine. Walter Reed Army Hospital and Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas have invested in climbing walls as a rehabilitative tool for injured veterans.

Jason Highsmith, assistant professor at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Medicine, was interviewed for this story.

Helping researchers at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences test different types of prosthetics was Ronnie Dickson, 21, a Winter Haven resident who is among the nation's best amputee rock climbers.

Several companies helped Dr. Highsmith with the study. They were Tampa climbing gym Vertical Ventures, which donated gym space; RobRick Outdoors in Clearwater, which donated the time of a rock climbing safety consultant; and four manufacturers that donated components to make the climbing prostheses with different configurations – Euro International in Tampa, College Park Industries of Michigan, KISS technologies of Baltimore, and Westcoast Brace & Limb of Tampa.

In other promising news for amputees, six months ago the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences launched a national, educational website on orthotics and prosthetics, in partnershp with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The Demonstration Project on Prosthetics and Orthotics website is a key component of a multi-million dollar effort by the DOE's Rehabilitation Services Administration to develop free educational materials for healthcare professionals in prosthetics and orthotics (P&O) and conduct pilot research to establish 'best clinical practices' for prosthetic choice and wear.

Newsbrief: Anne DeLotto Baier & Lissette Campos/Photography by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

Photo Gallery July 22, 2008

Above: From left to right, Jason Highsmith, assistant professor of physical therapy at USF; Jason Kahle, certified prosthetist/orthotist from Westcoast Brace & Limb; and Dickson. Below: Dickson prepares to slip on one of the prosthetic legs being evaluated for climbing.

Above: USF physical therapy doctoral student Jamie Fox places a respiratory mask with gas sensors on Dickson. The mask, along with a portable computer strapped to Dickson's back, will help resarchers measure the oxygen mixture as Dickson breathes to help determine his energy expenditure while climbing.

USF physical therapy and engineering researchers are working with manufacturers of prosthetic legs and feet to evaluate which configuration is superior for rock climbing.


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