Gaining Life Back One Step at a Time

Families of loved ones who have suffered from a devastating stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI) remember exactly when life changed for them. All of the sudden the person who was vibrant, talkative and active is now facing the challenge of getting back to that life with an unforeseen path of obstacles in front of them. They may not be able to communicate. They may have lost mobility. These are the patients whom therapists at Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital work with every day, utilizing the latest in technology and therapy in a race against time as the brain and body learn to work together again.

When TBI and stroke occur, the outcome is unique for every patient, dependent on the severity of the injury. What is consistent is time. “All of the research shows that the earlier and more frequently someone begins moving, the more likely they are to regain function,” says Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital Inpatient Rehabilitation Physical Therpist Elana Karkowski-Schelar, DPT. From walking again, to regaining balance and control of mobility, therapists work with patients on taking their first steps with a weight-support system called LiteGait. “The LiteGait allows patients to return to walking sooner by providing body weight support and allowing them to take many steps within a therapy session, which improves the patient's chance of making neuroplastic changes.” 

The LiteGait training device coordinates the control of weight bearing, posture and balance, while the patient is walking on a treadmill. “The harness and suspension system allows patients to be safe by preventing any chance of falling, and can provide variable levels of body weight support, essentially removing the weight of the body from the legs so that a person, who is weaker, can move more freely,” adds Elana.

Not only does the weight support allow patients to starting taking steps while they are rebuilding their strength, Elana says the repetitive nature of walking helps reinforce therapy. “The brain learns through repetition and the treadmill allows for patients to get in many practice steps in a therapy session,” she says. “It has been shown that infants learning to walk take 2,368 steps each hour and travel the distance of 7.7 football fields, while many patients in rehabilitation hospitals frequently take less than 400 steps a day in therapy.”

As patients continue therapy, they will continue to gain progress. “The LiteGait can also be used for patients who are working on high level balance activities,” explains Elana. “The harness and suspension system provide the patient and therapist with confidence to work on things like kicking a ball, standing on one leg on a an uneven surface, while doing a task with the hands. Or tasks like walking on a beam, for example, by eliminating the risk of falling.”

LiteGait is also advantageous for patients who have suffered a spinal injury or are suffering from a neurological degenerative disease like Parkinsons or Multiple Sclerosis to help the brain heal. “After neurologic injury, the brain is able to rewire itself, making new pathways around the injured parts of the brain,” Elana shares. “However, the brain needs be stimulated to make these changes. By putting the body through the familiar motions of walking, there is greater drive for the brain to make new connections and regain muscular control of the leg and trunk.”

To learn more about inpatient and outpatient services available at Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital, click here

{Bottom Photo Credit: LiteGait}