Learning to walk with a prosthetic leg is a challenging endeavor, and a team of researchers from the University of Miami is testing an app to help with this process. Called ReLoad, the app uses music to synchronize and correct the participant’s gait.

While many technological advancements have been accomplished with lower limb prosthetics, they will not automatically “walk” for the wearer. Instead, training in coordination, balance, and gait is vital for success and prosthetic acceptance, as well as ensuring proper socket and suspension fit. A poorly-coordinated gait can worsen the high-energy expenditure required to walk with a prosthetic. In the long term, inefficient gait may lead to the development of other musculoskeletal problems. Such challenges may lead to disuse of prosthetics and subsequently decreased mobility – leading to deconditioning and cardiovascular pathology.

Prosthetic training usually involves a rehabilitation team, especially a physical therapist. Sometimes a gait analysis lab, complete with a pressure-sensitive treadmill device is used to review the walking pattern. However, such devices can be very costly and are not often available.

Enter the app ReLoad, designed by University of Miami professor Bob Gailey, in conjunction with the Frost School of Music, Miller School of Medicine, and College of Engineering. It’s currently being tested out by the Miami VA and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

In ReLoad, sensors are placed on the amputee’s legs, prosthetics, and back. These sensors then sync with the app, detect perturbations in the amputee’s gait, and alerts them through a novel approach – with music! ReLoad plays music while the participant walks, but the audio will become warped if the gait is off – giving real-time feedback and allowing them to correct their gait on the spot. Verbal instructions are also available through the app, such as moving their hip in a certain manner. While ReLoad is not yet publicly available while it is being tested, it has the potential to offer an alternative to costly gait labs for thousands of lower limb amputees.