How Technology can aid rehabilitation
There is a misconception by many people that a spinal cord injury (SCI) means complete paralysis. Whilst this is true for a ‘complete’ spinal cord injury, where all function below the level of the injury is lost, it is also possible to have an ‘incomplete’ injury. An incomplete spinal cord injury means that some function, whether movement or sensation, is retained below the level of the injury.
In cases of incomplete SCI, physical therapy and rehabilitation may help the injured person with their gait, or balance.
Rehabilitation vs. physical therapy
These two terms are not interchangeable. Simply put, rehabilitation means the various therapies and treatments designed to get a patient physically and mentally ready to leave the hospital. Physical therapy (physiotherapy or occupational therapy) is the particular treatment designed to reach a particular end goal. These therapies can sometimes add to an already expensive life-change, but compensation may be able to help with this if appropriate. If you want advice about this, there are specialist lawyers, such as those at Aspire Law, you could talk to.
Physical therapy for SCI
With SCI, therapists may focus on improving lower limb function if someone has an incomplete SCI. You may hear the phrase ‘gait training’ which is a specific type of physiotherapy designed to help improve a person’s ability to stand and walk.
A piece of equipment sometimes used by physiotherapists to help with gait training is a body weight support system with a treadmill. This looks like a standard treadmill, but with harnesses to support the patient’s weight, allowing them to practice the movements of walking, without having to bear their body weight.
Vector Gait and Safety System
In the last couple of years, American med-tech company, Bioness, have released their Vector Gait and Safety System. This is an assistive-technology designed to ‘increase patient mobility while reducing the risk of injury’ both to the patient, and to the health care professional. So impressive is this technology that it was one of six finalists in the Rehabilitation and Assistive-Technology Products category of the 2014 Medical Design Excellence Awards, eventually winning the Gold Award.
The Vector Gait and Safety System consists of an overhead robotic trolley, a wireless software interface, a conductive rail, and a patient harness. It allows for precise weight support, and data collection for analysis and session comparison. It also includes fall protection settings which means that patients can practice more ‘advanced’ manoeuvres, such as jumping, or hopping.
The latest British hospital to install one of these systems is Stoke Mandeville, which is home to the National Spinal Injuries Centre.
The system has been installed in the St. Francis ward for children and young people, and is already proving successful.