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Robotic treadmill training helps retrain brain, improves walking

People who have suffered partial paralysis from spinal-cord injury show increased activity in the part of the brain responsible for muscle movement and motor learning after 12 weeks of training on a robotic treadmill, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.

Their study, which is currently online and will be published in the December issue of the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, is the first to demonstrate that locomotor training can promote activation in the parts of the brain involved in walking in spinal-cord injury patients, said lead author Dr. Patricia Winchester, chairwoman of physical therapy at UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School.

The results suggest that rehabilitation strategies could be designed "based in part upon whether or not they engage the critical areas of the brain necessary for walking," said Dr. Winchester.

Additionally, the findings suggest that a diagnostic technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), used by the researchers to measure the activation of these brain areas, "may be useful in predicting which individuals will benefit from a particular intervention" after spinal-cord injury, Dr. Winchester said.

David Cunniff, one of the study patients, described his improvements as "quite dramatic." He said within about a month of training on the robotic treadmill, he stood up out of his wheelchair for the first time.

"I had no idea I'd be able to do that," he said. Prior to the training, he could only stand with assistance and could not walk. Today he uses only a cane to move about. "I don't think I could have ever gotten to the place I am without the Lokomat robotic device and UT Southwestern," Mr. Cunniff said.

The study followed four spinal-cord injury patients with varying degrees of paralysis. All underwent rehabilitation therapy using a computerized treadmill called the Lokomat Driven Gait Orthosis. The device supports the weight
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Contact: Connie Piloto
connie.piloto@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
29-Nov-2005


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