The physical rehabilitation process can prove to be more difficult with certain joints and muscles in the human body. Joints such as the ankle are sometimes more difficult to bring to a full recovery due to the necessary range of motion that is hard to achieve. As a physical therapist, you understand how critical it is to not only to strengthen muscles, but also for the patient to regain the same range of motion and control as in the past. If the ankle and lower leg are weak from nerve damage, an accident, or a condition such as drop-foot; it may be helpful to use an orthopedic device to aid in the recovery and rebuilding process.

One such device is a bio-inspired robotic device being developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. In collaboration with Harvard University, the University of Southern California, MIT, and BioSensics, the device acts as a leg and ankle orthotic and achieves a natural range of motion for the ankle, while providing the necessary support.

Is it Worth the Hassle?

There are various schools of thought on the idea of using devices to aid in the physical therapy process, as some can create a dependency. However, therapeutic devices can also provide the necessary support to take the treatment to the next level. The success of the patient is contingent upon their willingness to work hard, as well as the durability and effectiveness of the device. The innovative sensors in this device are made of thin rubber sheets, filled with a liquid metal blend, which allows them to be stretched and vary in their resistance. This creates the necessary amount of resistance based on the sensor placed at the top and side of the ankle so the patient can perform their rehabilitation at their own pace. This device helps patients with the following rehabilitation needs: cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, gait disorders and drop foot.

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Here are some of the benefits to this new ankle-foot device as opposed to similar devices of the past:

  • The flexible material allows for a greater natural range of motion. It is unlike those in the past with a traditional exoskeleton/exterior that severely limited the body movement due to their rigid engineering. It acts as a brace of sorts rather than doing all the work for the patient, providing the opportunity for patient led rehab.
  • The device combines the ideal blend of soft materials for comfort, along with pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), lightweight sensors, and advanced control software so the ankle has natural motion with support.
  • In the past, the older style of braces could help improve a patient’s walk but it created atrophy with the other muscles in the lower leg.
  • Active devices can help to retrain the brain and body to move in a certain way.  In the case of the human ankle, it can move on three different dimensions where older ankle braces only allow for a single pivot point.

The new approach to ankle-foot rehab utilizing this state-of-the-art robotic device can decrease the time it takes for a full rehabilitation in most patients and enhance their efforts to see even greater improvement on a weekly basis. For more information on PT trends, contact PT Solutions, your nationwide therapist job provider.

Technology and Innovation in Physical Therapy: Robotic Device Use in Ankle-Foot Rehab was last modified: by

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