Robotic Legs Helping Patients Re-Learn To Walk

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Robotic legs

Therapists are using a new tool to help patients learn to walk again after partial spinal cord injuries and strokes.

The Lokomat System combines a treadmill, robotic legs and a high-powered computer with several synchronized drives to actively move patients' legs in a pattern similar to physiological walking.

The treatment delivered by the Lokomat, known as "locomotion therapy," has been used for years by physical therapists to help patients re-learn how to walk after strokes, partial spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and other neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. In the past, locomotion therapy required the therapists to manually move patients' legs by hand, which was physically taxing on the therapists and limited the length of each therapy session.

With the Lokomat, patients' legs are fastened into two robotic legs, each with computer controlled drives at the hip and knee joints, and the patient is hoisted to a vertical position via a secure harness. The therapist then programs a computer to move the robotic legs -- either with or without assistance from the patient -- at the patients' ideal gait pattern. Once the patient is secure and the computer is programed, the robotic legs begin to move in a manner that is consistent with patients' normal walking motions.

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The machine's computers provide real-time biofeedback to therapists, allowing the clinicians to reliably measure patients' overall leg force, hip and knee joint movements and progress.

According to Tim Bowman, research administrator for Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, the Lokomat technology represents a significant step forward for patients.

"We've used locomotion therapy as an effective intervention for improving over-ground walking function for many years, but now we are able to take the treatment to the next level," said Bowman. "The technology in the Lokomat allows our therapists to focus on helping patients reduce stiffness, improve force and regain a range of motion that can help them re-learn to walk."

Patients who are interested in learning more about the Lokomat can visit the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Web site, www.abbottnorthwestern.com, or talk to their primary physician for a referral.

Funding for the Lokomat was provided by the Sister Kenny Foundation, which is committed to integrated with rehabilitative care to contribute to patients achieving positive outcomes more quickly and cost-effectively.

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