Pushing Boundaries, Washington’s only exercise-therapy center for people with paralysis, is gearing-up to introduce the state’s first robotic walking system, the Lokomat, early next year. The machine will be available for public use and may help those with paralysis regain strength and, in some cases, learn to walk again.
The Redmond-based facility held a luncheon at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center earlier this month to raise funds for the much-anticipated machine. Together with friends, family, and clients, Pushing Boundaries raised close to $90,000. The total cost for a Lokomat is $300,000.
“It (the luncheon) turned out really well, better than we could have hoped for,” said Shawna Hanson, the event and public relations coordinator for Pushing Boundaries.
Featured at the event were client testimonies, a video describing the machine and its use, as well as a speech from Pushing Boundaries co-founder Sharon Northrup.
The Lokomat is an example of the creative therapy that Pushing Boundaries emphasizes that could reverse “learned non-use” in affected muscle groups.
Here’s how it works: A person strapped into a harness is suspended over a treadmill, where they are attached to robotic sensors. They help move the legs in a natural walking pattern that is even, consistent and can be sustained over long periods of time.
According to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, it is believed that this repetitive walking pattern helps the brain and spinal cord work together to re-route neural signals that may have been damaged due to illness or injury. The resulting “re-connection” helps the body regain mobility that has been lost due to injury, stroke or other neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis.
The institute, which began clinical trials of this therapy in March 2002, claims other benefits that may include regained muscle strength and improved circulation. The weight-bearing nature of the machine may also help strengthen bones at risk for osteoporosis.
“Locomotion therapy is becoming something that’s more widely accepted,” said Hanson. “Doctors are learning that there are things that can build around the site of the injury to make a new connection.”
Jerry Daniels, an exercise therapist and certified personal trainer at Pushing Boundaries, explained how exercise therapy, like gait-training, helps to improve mobility. He compared the spine to a “super-highway.”
“Just because the highway’s been choked off, doesn’t mean we can’t go around the back roads. The body is always trying to fix itself; it wants to get better. If you help it by being active, it will work with you.”
Devin Givens, a young man and client at Pushing Boundaries, said he is excited to use the new machine.
“As soon as I get on it, I’ll take off. Connections will be made,” said Givens.
For more information on the Lokomat or to make an appointment for a tour of the Pushing Boundaries facility, visit its Web site at www.pushing-boundaries.org or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brittni Reinertsen is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.