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Why crutches may soon be relics of the past

Forward Mobility unveils the Freedom Leg, which functions like a hands-free brace, allowing the user to walk with all the weight transferred to the upper leg.

Freedom Leg
The Freedom Leg is 2.5 pounds. Forward Mobility

Anyone who's ever worn crutches knows they are a pain at best. It's bad enough trying to walk, let alone surviving stairs, and we haven't even gotten to the underarm chafing.

Forward Mobility to the rescue. The Edmonds, Wash.-based company, which got its start manufacturing bicycles in the 1990s, is now designing and manufacturing a slew of medical mobility products, from a collapsible wheelchair to a seated scooter for foot and leg injuries. The Freedom Leg, released at MedTrade in October, functions like a hands-free brace. In the company's words:

Go beyond the limitations of crutches, wheelchairs, or scooters. It is truly an off-loading prosthetic that allows the user to fully integrate the device into their lives, giving them complete mobility. The user has the ability to accomplish all their normal day-to-day tasks without assistance, while at the same time keeping the strength in upper muscles of the injured leg.

According to "Emma" in the video, who broke her foot, the Freedom Leg transfers the weight of her step to her upper leg, enabling her to continue to use the muscles in her leg as she moves around without compromising the progress of her mending foot, which remains in a cast.

Forward Mobility is a finalist for $100,000 in grants from business magazine Inc. The company is among 13 entrepreneurs featured in a reader election that runs through Friday on Inc.'s Web site.

Part of Forward Mobility's popularity is not just its inventions, but its philosophy. The founders work with an organization in Vietnam, Kids First Enterprise, to manufacture its devices; 20 percent of the organization's workforce has disabilities, and all profits go to projects that support the disabled and disadvantaged.

When I talked to Bill Borders, VP of sales, by phone Thursday, he told me the device retails for about $350. "It's hard to compare it to a regular knee brace," he adds. "There's nothing like it that allows people to 100 percent off-load, hands-free. In that sense it's pretty revolutionary. And because you are putting some weight-bearing load on your injured leg, it really reduces the muscle atrophy in that leg."

We'll have to wait and see whether this invention takes off, and even though it looks like the underarm chafing issue of crutches has merely migrated down to the thigh, I'd take the hands-free device over crutches any day.