The brain-body connection is often overlooked in traditional forms of physical therapy, but new machines are putting this crucial element front and center at Bayhealth Kent General’s Outpatient Rehabilitation facility.
Physical and neurological damage to the body, caused by impact or occurrences such as stroke, can inhibit the body’s muscle memory. This delay makes it hard for the body to remember how to execute basic actions such as raising the arm, rising from a chair, or squeezing a loved one’s hand.
Enter the BTE PrimusRS, a massive machine that resembles a super-sized version of the Nautilus weight-lifting equipment in most gyms. The PrimusRS has the unique ability to simulate hundreds of functional tasks that patients encounter during a typical day—turning a screwdriver, pressing a gas pedal, sawing wood, or opening a jar, to name just a few.
Patients sit in the PrimusRS’s leather seat as the machine’s engine goes to work, It shifts and pushes the affected limbs as if the patients were completing the actions themselves.
Bayhealth physical therapist Kristoffer Surdukowski, PT, DPT, described a stroke patient whose left side was paralyzed. When she was initially positioned on the PrimusRS, her leg dangled motionless in front of her. Eventually, the patient could extend her leg and kick it up and down.
“She hadn’t done that in months,” said Surdukowski. “Yes, that response is extraordinary, but sometimes all it takes is a little reminder to stimulate the nerve connections between the brain and the body.”
With its state-of-the-art computer system, the PrimusRS allows therapists to evaluate, track and report a patient’s physical strength and improvements, grounding the recovery process in hard data. While traditional PT methods often involve a therapist assessing patient strength by applying force to the area of weakness and estimating the response, the PrimusRS relies on objective measures.
Once patients have a thorough understanding of the facts underlying their physical condition, they are better able to set goals and make progress.
Surdukowski said, “We individualize the treatment so each patient ‘races’ against their former scores. Everyone loves to win, and we’re seeing people get stronger faster, using their muscles harder.”
Another piece of equipment also emphasizes the importance of metrics in the healing process. As patients stand on a flat, round plate, the Biodex Balance System SD gauges their balance and agility. Particularly useful for older patients who may have lost some of their mobility, the Biodex screens patients against age-related norms, assessing risk for falls.
Athletes recovering from knee and hip injuries improve the leg’s ability to bear weight by completing a series of training programs on the Biodex. The goal is increased overall stability, a necessary foundation for more complex muscle movements.
Litegait, another piece of equipment in Bayhealth’s rehabilitation arsenal, controls weight-bearing, posture, and balance. A tall metal frame straddling a treadmill suspends a durable nylon harness over the spot where a person would normally stand on the belt. Numerous clasps secure the harness around the body, and a hydraulic motor tightens the straps, holding patients up to 400 pounds as the belt begins to move. This support supplies the freedom to walk or stand without fear of falling.
With the Litegait system, patients who have trouble walking can increase their muscle strength and endurance. This treatment is the first step towards improved functional mobility.