As with communication, transportation, and recreation, rehabilitation is marching forward with regards to technological advancement.
Engineers, Clinicians and Everyone in Between
The collaboration between engineers, physical and occupational therapists, and other professionals, has led to the development of rehabilitative treatments incorporating technologies such as virtual reality, robotics, wearable sensors and monitors, and brain-computer interfaces, among many others. These have been used in post-stroke motor retraining, gait analysis, and motion template databases. These tools optimize rehabilitation, prevent regression, monitor change, promote awareness, and engage the patient in a healthier lifestyle.
The availability of these technologies enables patients suffering from chronic conditions and disabilities to participate in activities of daily living. The existence of “smart homes” and communication devices eliminate potential barriers that may impede the patient’s access to treatment. For example, tele-rehabilitation delivers the physical therapy straight to the patient’s living room, making a once-complicated visit to the clinic more viable, pleasant, and encouraging.
Target Populations and Applications
1) Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are used as rehabilitation tools to functionally retrain patients who have suffered a stroke or trauma, or who have neuromuscular conditions which cause muscle weakness and atrophy.
2) ReWalk is a robotic walking aid which helps paraplegics walk on their own using a technology which senses trunk shifting and mimics human gait patterns.
3) Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) may be used for the treatment of brain injury, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and post-stroke neurorehabilitation.
4) Laser attachments on shoes give walking cues in Parkinson’s patients, helping them to control and plan their steps, avoid falling, and improve their sense of security.
5) Wearable robotic gloves train the patient in fine motor activities such as playing an instrument.
6) Videogames are used as a rehabilitative tool for restoring functionality and improving motivation, and have been proven effective for any age group.
7) Smartphone applications for custom exercise and lifestyle programs and remote physical therapy via tele-rehabilitation make treatment more accessible. In some cases, mobility is so limited that many patients opt not to continue therapy in the clinic. In order to improve participation and prevent regression, these tools make rehabilitation more convenient and viable.
These are only a few examples of the incorporation of technological tools in the path to rehabilitation. Patients suffering from chronic pain or disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, neuromuscular degenerative disorders, or recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury may, with the guidance of a clinician, choose from a spectrum of multidisciplinary treatment programs with a multitude of technological options according to their preferences and needs. The applications are thoroughly researched and developed using standardized tools and evidence-based principles. Due to the partnership between clinicians and engineers, these tools are fit to specific functions, preparing the patient in resuming their participation in activities of daily living.
These programs of Technologies in rehabilitative treatments not only benefit the patient, but also contribute to databases on metrics and motion templates and provide evidence for these applications in terms of their efficacy for motor recovery. The more these modalities are utilized, the greater and more varied the pools of data they yield, the more precise the conclusions. In addition, this data can help researchers identify limitations, correct deviations, and optimize care.
In all, traditional physical therapy may not yet be deemed as obsolescent, but today’s rehabilitative treatment is on a path to the future of healing and recovery. So, let’s take a robotically-aided step forward.