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What’s the Latest in Spinal Cord Injury Technology?

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Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) patients come to Burke’s inpatient acute rehabilitation program directly from the hospital/trauma center where they were treated and stabilized to prevent further damage to the spinal cord. Once at Burke, an intensive rehabilitation phase begins.

Physical therapy is crucial at this stage, because many of the gains the patient will make in movement happen during this time. Strengthening muscles and improving flexibility shapes the individual’s ability to make ongoing progress afterwards.

Technology is playing an ever-larger role in SCI therapy and Burke’s therapists are always at the ready when it comes to testing new devices that help them help patients.

Today’s devices involve plenty of electronic circuitry and software, so real time feedback from patients and their therapists help inventors and engineers fine tune and keep extending what these sophisticated devices can do. It’s a three-way partnership between the patient, therapist and technology.

Two new devices have recently been introduced to SCI patients in Burke’s rehab program:

  • REX, a robotic mobility aid
  • Xcite, an integrated muscle stimulator

REX is a robotic mobility aid, from REX Bionics Ltd., that provides a very stable platform for patients to exercise in an upright position, including some walking.

Unlike a robotic exoskeleton, which requires patients to use their arms to control walking sticks, those with limited upper limb control can use REX. Being securely strapped in at the knee, inner thigh and abdomen makes the individual completely stable with only two feet on the ground.

Standing exercise has many benefits, including less atrophy of muscles in the lower body, and much better bowel and bladder function. REX provides “movement maps” called REXERCISETM, that enable users to do squats, lunges, leg swings and stretches. With the lower body stable and the arms free, a patient can lift a ball, reach or stretch side-to-side.

A simple joystick allows the patient to step forward, backward, or side-to-side. REX also mimics natural sitting-to-standing motions. Patients can do much of this on their own, without needing one or more therapists to insure stability. In Europe, patients at home are already using REX, where they have far greater independence doing everyday household tasks.

Click here to see a video on how REX works.

Xcite comes from Restorative Therapies, a company already known for its Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) devices, which have been in regular use at Burke. These include cycling therapy machines, which use electrical current to stimulate nerves and generate muscle contraction in the leg and trunk.

The Xcite FES clinical station goes much further than helping to strengthen muscles, because it also programs the sequential muscle movements needed to perform a range of functional tasks. Xcite is unique in its ability to train fine motor skills, like those needed to grasp and use a utensil to eat, to brush one’s hair, or to manipulate a zipper.

Until now, therapists have had to position electrodes and lead the patient through each step in a particular function. Therapists can customize therapies to the patient’s goals, based on Xcite’s library of 40 activities.

In summing up the value of technology, Burke’s Program Director of the SCI/Neuro Program Elizabeth Dominick says: “Advancing technology not only helps us mobilize patients faster and earlier, it gives the body a chance to do activities the person did before injury. And, by mimicking what the body has lost, these technologies help keep the body ready in case the (nerve) signals start to connect again.”

Find out more about Burke’s inpatient SCI program.

— Carol Vartuli 

Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. It’s goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

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