Robotic technology teaches spinal cord injury patients to walk again

DALLAS April 29, 2004 A 50-year-old man paralyzed from the neck down in a devastating motorcycle accident a year ago is learning to walk again with the help of a robot named Lokomat at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Chuck Benefield of Dallas was riding his motorcycle on a quiet country road when a car rear-ended him, throwing him from the bike. When he awoke from a coma 11 days later, he learned he was paralyzed.

"I was banged up real bad," Mr. Benefield said. "The doctors said it was an incomplete spinal- cord injury, and I would probably never be able to walk again. That was hard to adjust to."

But that was before he met Lokomat.

Physicians and physical therapists at UT Southwestern are using the device to teach Mr. Benefield to walk again.

The robot provides "gait training" by teaching a patient's spinal cord and brain, with sensory information, to signal the body to step again. A harness supports the patient's body weight over a large treadmill. The legs and hips are strapped into the machine's robotic exoskeleton, which simulates a fluid walking motion. A computer records precise movement measurements and plots them on a graph, which is displayed in real time on a nearby monitor and allows patients and therapists to track progress.

UT Southwestern is the only institution in Texas and is among only a handful in the nation using the new machine.

During conventional treatments, patients are supported by a harness over a treadmill, but a therapist must manually move the patient's hips and legs. The procedure is extremely fatiguing to the patient and the therapist, and the patient's spasticity often cannot be overcome to accomplish gait training.

"The robot not only provides specific and consistent training parameters and the needed power, it can also quantify the patient's responses, freeing the therapist to make ongoing adjustments in the robot and improve the patie

Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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