May 19, 2006
Volume 17, No. 10
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By the year 2012,
an estimated 20
“Baby boomers are approaching the age where they are more likely to need rehab services,” says Ross Zafonte, DO, chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UPMC and chief medical officer of the UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research. “If you pair that with the large number of veterans with impairment from brain and spinal cord injury or limb loss, the current system will be flooded.”
In response to this growing public health concern, the UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (IRR) has employed a new method of rehabilitation called Lokomat®, a robotic treadmill designed to help correct gait impairments.
The Lokomat uses robotic arms to move a patient’s legs so they feel the repetition of walking. The therapy rebuilds muscles and speeds recovery from disability. The automated process relieves therapists of the manual labor of treadmill training, which allows for longer, more efficient, and more frequent sessions.
The IRR is the first in the region to offer the Lokomat, which has been engineered to accommodate each patient’s unique needs. The braces and other support devices are position-controlled and can be adjusted to the width of the patient’s hips and the length of his or her legs.
During rehabilitation, a patient is wheeled onto the treadmill and lifted into the adjustable braces. Optical sensors monitor the patient’s footsteps on the treadmill and automatically control the session without the need for manual operation. A patient can even watch his or her progress on a flat panel display and control his or her own movements accordingly.
The computerized session display, which provides data called biofeedback, is one of the most important features of this new rehab system. Biofeedback includes information about a patient’s walking pace, range of limb motion, and overall session progress.
The Lokomat does not entirely replace the personal touch of a physical therapist. The computerized motors are synchronized to the speed of the treadmill, which is adjusted by the therapist. The system’s swinging gate allows for a simple conversion from automated to manual training.
“When you see a patient who was unable to walk suddenly get out of her wheelchair and have decent ambulation, or when one can go to his daughter’s wedding, or walk through a store, it’s amazing and fulfilling,” says Dr. Zafonte.