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Technology Aids Physical Therapists in Gait Training

Technology Aids Physical Therapists in Gait Training

Article Highlights

  • Partial weight-bearing devices make it easier for therapists to assist patients.
  • Ambulatory exercises using technology can offer psychological benefits.
  • Treadmill therapy aids in improving walking speed.

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Gait therapy technology has given physical therapists more opportunities to provide effective treatment for patients who have lost their ability to walk.

Many therapists are now using partial weight-bearing devices instead of parallel bars to treat people who have lost mobility because of injuries, illnesses, and other debilitating conditions. Parallel bars have long played an important role in ambulatory exercises because they allow patients to support themselves using their upper body strength while relearning to walk. But physical therapists say devices such as the Biodex Unweighing System and LiteGait® system make it easier for them to facilitate the retraining of lower extremity movement.

“What therapists would normally do is walk behind the patient in parallel bars,” says Kenneth Amsler, program chair for the Physical Therapist Assisting program for South University. “After two or three round trips, the patient and therapist are tired. There is also an issue of the therapist having to move paralyzed extremities.”

The Biodex and LiteGait® systems have easily accessible harnesses and suspensions that allow for pelvic rotation that is essential for functional gait mechanics. Applications for the equipment include rehabilitation of patients who suffered traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic disorders, and neurological disorders such as stroke.

If repetition is the mother of learning, it is better to take 400 steps than 30.

In order to adequately prepare graduates for their careers in physical therapy, South University’s Physical Therapist Assisting department has equipped campus medical labs with industry-relevant equipment used to aid rehabilitation. South University — West Palm Beach, for example, purchased the Biodex Unweighing System earlier this year for utilization in a rehabilitation techniques course in which students learn about stroke and spinal injuries.

“We want graduates to be ready to work, not to be ready to train,” Amsler states. “We have worked with clinics in our communities to find out what technology they are using.”

Amir Seif, vice president of research and education at LiteGait® manufacturer Mobility Research, says the LiteGait® system was produced to allow the patient to experience the right kind of stimulation that produces good walking. 

“The idea is that the improper positioning would eliminate spinal centers from being activated, so putting them in good posture allows the therapist to take action and correct the movement,” he explains.

Amsler says the main benefits of the partial weight-bearing systems are that they assist with the patient’s posture and balance and support their body weight. Therefore, the therapist can concentrate on walking pattern, not physically supporting the patient. 

“What also happens is the patient is also taking a lot more steps,” Amsler states. “So we walked 40 feet at the parallel bars, but can walk 100 feet using the system. If repetition is the mother of learning, it is better to take 400 steps than 30.”

Therapists have also found the patient’s ability to take more steps on the machines mean they are starting functional retraining and actual walking sooner than if they used only parallel bars for treatment. 

“We don’t have the luxury of treating people for long periods of time,” Amsler says. “Insurance companies and healthcare providers expect measurable results in a specific amount of time.”

Therapists at SWAN Rehab, an outpatient clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, use the LiteGait® system for weight-bearing assisted treadmill therapy. According to Kay Wing, physical therapist and president of SWAN Rehab, the treadmill therapy aids in improving walking speed, a critical measure of independent mobility outside of the home. 

“We want to improve the patient’s quality of life by getting them up to those community walking speeds where they can go grocery shopping and perform other essential activities on their own,” Wing explains.

Amsler says the technology also provides patients with psychological benefits. 

“On the machines, they can feel the weight in their legs and see themselves upright and moving,” he says. “These are the psychological benefits worth having for motivation.”

Author: Darice Britt

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