New arm aims for a hole-in-one

Prosthetic arms are typically designed to allow people to tend to their basic daily routines, rarely for any other recreational pursuits. However, USF researchers hope to broaden their options, starting with golfing.

USF’s School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences assistant professor Jason Highsmith completed a clinic trial last week that allows upper limb amputees more freedom while golfing with the aid of a golf hand attachment.

One of the patients who tried this new device is Alan Hines, a Florida Power & Light Company electrician who lost his right hand – his dominant hand – 11 years ago.

“I was at work that day, attending to a contract with the department of voltage, and I got electrocuted,” he said.

Since then, Hines said he has been unable to pursue many recreational activities because the flexibility of his prosthetic hand is limited.

“With this hand, I am able to do small things, pick up, hold and grab things. There is not a whole lot I can do with my other hand, and I do not have that much flexibility as I would have with my other hand,” he said.

Now, Hines and another upper limb amputee are working alongside USF clinical researchers to test the device that will enable them to play golf.

Highsmith said he was not given permission to mention the other amputee’s name.

The idea stemmed from Bob Radocy, an upper limb amputee who founded a prosthetic technology engineering company after he lost his hand about 40 years ago, Highsmith said.

Radocy was frustrated with the limited choices of recreational activities for upper limb amputees and created the attachments that would help amputees with golf, in 2006.

Radocy, who worked with Highsmith on a similar prosthetic kayak hand attachment, used his earlier invention to develop a more flexible grip area and comfortable golf attachment in February.

According to Highsmith, upper limb amputees generally use either a body-powered and passive prosthetic arm or a myoelectric (muscle-powered) prosthetic arm.

In order for amputees to carry out recreational activities ,a separate attachment or gear is needed, he said.

A clinical trial was conducted from the end of July to early September to determine which of the devices yielded the best results, Highsmith said.

During the pre-test, each patient was introduced to different versions of the hand and received coaching from a Professional Golfers’ Association of America coach. Researchers looked at the club head speed, which is how fast the golf club is moving through space and elbow kinematics to see how much the elbow joint moved.

The patients were then brought back to the lab to carry out the post-test, which was completed on Sept. 2 at the USF Motion Analysis Laboratory. The results will be analyzed in “a couple of weeks,” Highsmith said.

Highsmith said the patients preferred the newer version of the golf hand.

The device is about six inches long and is made from synthetic rubber. One end of the device is attached to the prosthetic arm using a universal prosthetic adapter and the other side fits perfectly into a golf club.

Hines said he believes there are better hands to come, especially with the advent of the golf hand.

“I am glad that there is somebody out there doing that, trying to make things better,” he said. “I volunteered in order to try and do my part to give the input so that they could hopefully continue to do more research, especially with USF looking into it and doing what they have done. It benefits people like me.”