After suffering a stroke or spinal cord injury, a patient regaining their ability to walk typically requires three to five physical therapists supporting them while physically moving their limbs. This is not only physically exhausting, but leaves therapists at risk of personal injury. Now, the leading health care facilities in Korea have adopted a rehab robot that only requires one therapist – the Walkbot combines an adjustable lower-body robotic exoskeleton that moves a patient's legs in time with a treadmill.
The Walkbot can be used to rehabilitate patients with a wide variety of conditions, including amputation, osteoarthritis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and sports injuries. P&S Mechanics, the company behind the Walkbot, has also developed a version for pediatric care that is designed to strengthen the leg muscles and improve the leg joints' range of motion. Units are already installed at the Seoul National University Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, the Pusan National University Hospital, and the Wonju Christian Hospital.
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The Walkbot isn't the only exoskeleton robot designed specifically for gait training rehab, but it is amongst the first to be commercialized. The Hocoma Lokomat is another major contender, with over 500 of the devices currently in use in hospitals and clinics around the world, including the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Balgrist University Hospital, in Zurich, Switzerland. Similar devices are being developed around the world.
According to the creators of the LOPES (LOwer-extremity Powered ExoSkeleton), which has been in development since the turn of the millennium at the University of Twente, robotic gait training will likely become the norm.
"Regaining walking ability is one of the major goals during rehabilitation after stroke, as this ability greatly determines the level of socio/economic participation and the overall physical health of patients," they stated. "There is growing scientific evidence that task specific and intensive training of actively performed movements results in the largest functional improvement. Yet, routine application of such training faces some serious problems. Providing intensive task-specific training is very labor-intensive and puts therapists at risk of injury. The aging of the population will aggravate this situation, as it results in an increase in the number of patients. At the same time a decrease in the number of available therapists is expected. By using robotic devices to provide the patient with the required support, these problems can be circumvented."
You can see the Walkbot in action in the following video: