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Bionic leg helps rehab patients

January 27, 2012

You’ve heard of the bionic man. This is the bionic leg.

Catawba Valley Medical Center’s (CVMC) Rehabilitation Center recently started using state-of-the-art technology as a tool to help stroke patients regain confidence and make up deficits in the use of their lower limbs.

The center started widespread use of the Tibion Bionic Leg this year.

The leg, which attaches to the lower limb of a patient suffering from post-stroke weaknesses or deficits, uses sensory receptors and robotic motors to assist patients as they try to regain a more “normal” gait.

CVMC Physical Therapist Matt O’Neill said that people who have experienced a stroke are often impacted on one side of their body. They avoid using the side that has been affected, which can lead to risks such as falls or other orthopedic issues, he said.

Therapists work with post-stroke patients to improve their confidence and functionality of their affected limb — a process that the bionic leg heavily assists with.

“We’re excited about the device because it’s another tool in our quest to be the best facility we can be,” said Jeremy Frye, director of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at CVMC. “We have this new technology that will assist to further help the patient.”

Since starting use of the device, CVMC therapists have seen positive carry-over from inpatient to outpatient therapy in the patients who have used the bionic leg.

The device helps give the patient more confidence, Frye said.

The bionic leg is an “intensive-based” robot at its core, which uses highly sensitive motors to provide assistance and training to the affected leg of a stroke survivor or patient with another type of lower-limb impairment.

“It can be used on someone with any lower-extremity impairment, but it has been tested in patients primarily dealing with strokes,” Frye said.

Here's how it works:

* A foot sensor inside a patient’s shoe measures the patient’s “weight-bearing status,” which is customized by the therapist on a computer screen, to trigger the bionic leg’s motors.

* Once the patient demonstrates the proper weight-bearing status, the leg’s motor applies the appropriate percentage of robotic support to equalize the strength of the affected leg with that of the unaffected leg.

* This “homeostasis” enables stroke patients to better perform activities like walking and climbing stairs with reduced assistance.

“It pretty much provides more bio-feedback and sensory input,” O’Neill said. “It’s more of a sensory experience.”

Bobby Lail agrees.

Lail, who suffered weakness in his left leg, has done a handful of treatments with the bionic leg in recent months during his rehab process. O’Neill said the 45- to 60-minute training sessions have helped Lail tremendously.

Lail walked quickly up a set of stairs Thursday in CVMC’s rehab center off Fairgrove Church Road. He said the device has been great.

“It’s definitely helped me — especially sitting and standing,” Lail said.

For more information on CVMC’s Center for Rehabilitation, visit catawbavalleymedical.org/center-for-rehabilitation.

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