New Software Helps People with Paralysis Learn to Walk Again

Those of us of a certain age remember The Six Million Dollar Man TV show from the 70’s.  The main character had several bionic parts to replace severely injured areas of his body.  Magee has its very own bionic system, and its called the Ekso.  The Ekso is a bionic suit that allows people with full or partial paralysis of their legs to stand and walk using a walker or crutches. The person wears a battery pack on their back that powers motors to move the legs.  The leg movement is triggered by the person shifting their weight and engaging sensors.  For those of you too young to remember The Six Million Dollar Man, one patient described the Ekso as the Iron Man suit.

There are many benefits to using the Ekso.  The upright position encourages bone health and prevents osteoporosis, aids bowel and bladder function, and helps stretch out muscles that get tight sitting in a wheelchair all day.  Patients can relearn proper stepping patterns and weight shifting.  Use of the Ekso can not only increase the number of steps a patient takes, but it also improves the quality of walking.

Ekso is not new to Magee, but this month, our Ekso received a software upgrade that will allow the therapist to adjust how much help the robot is providing.  We can now use the Ekso with many different types of patients, including people with complete or incomplete spinal cord injury, stroke, and traumatic brain injury who have no movement to any amount of movement in their legs.  Potential users of the Ekso must be evaluated by a trained Magee physical therapist who will evaluate strength, range of motion, and spasticity.  Participants must have some control of their torso and enough arm and hand function to hold a walker or crutches. The Ekso can accommodate a person between 5’2 and 6’2 and up to 220 pounds.

Adjusting to the unit can take time, and the speed of walking is increased as the patient gains balance and becomes more comfortable with weight shifting.  In addition to the physical benefits of being upright, the psychological benefits of standing eye to eye with friends and family are priceless.

At this time Ekso can only be used in the clinic, but a personal unit for home is in development.  If you are interested in being evaluated for the Ekso, please contact Magee Riverfront Outpatient Therapy and Wellness Center at 215-218-3900.

Ekso crutches

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