People recovering from spinal cord injuries and strokes often struggle under the weight of gravity. Recovering gait, or a regular walking rhythm, can be a real challenge. A group of scientists may have just made it a little easier, though: They discovered that a smart walking harness brought immediate and dramatic improvements to patients struggling with mobility.
The main problem lies with the way our brains our wired: Our bodies learn to walk a certain way. After a neurological disorder or an injury, the body needs to be taught to walk a different way. That rewiring, and the loss of muscle mass that results from being immobile after injury or a stroke, is very difficult. Often patients will never fully relearn how to walk naturally, and instead will keep trying to reproduce a motion that is no longer physically possible.
The team of scientists suspended a robotic harness from the ceiling that was equipped with smart programming. An algorithm constantly adjusted the support and force to the body's trunk depending on what the patient needed. The results were stark: Every single patient (thirty in total) showed marked improvement. "Patients unable to walk without assistance (nonambulatory) were able to walk naturally with the harness, whereas ambulatory patients exhibited improved skilled locomotion such as balance, limb coordination, foot placement, and steering," says the article in Science Translational Medicine. You can see the process for yourself in the video below.
This could be huge for patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and neurological issues, such as strokes. Teaching yourself to learn how to walk all over again is no small thing, and it's encouraging to see more and more attention being paid to how "smart" devices can assist in medical recovery.