News Feb 9, 2022

How Robot Technology Helps Speed Recovery After Stroke, Spinal Cord and Brain Injury

Robotics technology in health care plays a key part in the healing process

Technology plays a big part in patient care. Walk into any hospital or rehabilitation center and you’ll see technology at work everywhere. There are automated IV pumps for managing medication dosages. There are automated systems for feeding and nutrition. There are monitors to measure vital signs and smart beds that auto adjust for comfort and safety.

And, there are robots.

Robotics technology in health care is growing worldwide. Since its entry into medical care, robotics integration has grown steadily with a focus on helping people recover from physical injury and disability.

Since the evolution of rehabilitation robots in the 1960s, it has been developed as assistive devices, prosthetics... and many others. Fortune Business Insights notes an “Aging population and rising cases of stroke rendering people immobile” as two major factors driving the rehabilitation robots market growth.

The rehabilitation programs at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital include robot-assisted therapy. Our team uses rehabilitation robotics to treat conditions such as stroke, spinal cord and brain injuries.

The integration of robotic therapies helps to shorten hospital stays so patients can return home sooner.

Stroke and spinal cord injury (SCI) are leading neurological causes of long-term disability. Almost 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke yearly, according to the CDC. Roughly two-thirds of survivors need rehabilitation for central nervous system (CNS) damage. The damage impairs the use of muscles, which results in a loss of movement and functional skills. Brain injury patients can experience the same. Our teams specialize in health robotics therapy to deliver improved patient outcomes. Robotics therapy enhances exercise repetition needed to retrain the brain to relearn movement and regain motor skills.

Robotics rehabilitation helps rebuild function needed for everyday activities like:

  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Reaching
  • Grasping
  • Pulling
  • Pushing

Our Approach to Robotics Rehabilitation

Recovery of motor function and movement is our goal at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital. In stroke rehabilitation, building back strength and mobility early is key. Where you do that rehab is also important:

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association recommend that, whenever possible, patients recovering from a stroke be treated in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital rather than a skilled nursing facility.

Here’s why:

Inpatient rehabilitation gives patients coordinated care supported by nurses, doctors, counselors and therapists. This approach helps individuals recover to their maximum potential.

In addition to providing traditional hands-on therapy, the interdisciplinary team includes rehabilitation robotic therapy in treatment plans when appropriate. While assistive robotics may not be right for every patient, it can be a powerful addition to manual therapy, helping a patient regain mobility and successfully return to daily living.

Rehabilitation robotics can treat a range of mobility conditions to improve overall function:

  • Bending and balance
  • Reflexes and coordination
  • Stiffness and weakness
  • Motor and sensory function
  • Sitting, sleeping and rising
  • Communicating and swallowing

State-of-the-Art Rehabilitative Services

Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital is part of Select Medical’s network of rehabilitation hospitals. Select Medical is committed to providing effective, evidenced-based treatment for patients. This involves updating robotic technologies to ensure patients receive the best opportunity to regain function. Our therapy gym is equipped with several robotics devices for improving function involving:

  • Legs and feet (lower extremities)
  • Arms and hands (upper extremities)
Armeo®Spring self-initiated robotic hand therapy and training video

Play the accessible version of the “Armeo®Spring self-initiated robotic hand therapy and training” video

Other technological additions to our gym:

  • Ekso Bionics Exoskeleton: A wearable, battery-powered device that helps re-teach the brain and muscles how to properly walk again. The external framework uses robotic technology to improve motor performance.
  • Virtualis Virtual Reality (VR): Virtual reality therapy simulates real-life activities to help improve motor function. The therapy uses a computer, movement sensors and special goggles to create a virtual environment where patients can work on improving balance, body movement, reaction time and endurance.

What to Expect With Robotics Rehabilitation

As with all of our patient care and services, health care robotics therapy comes with a safety-first mindset. While the technology is innovative and sets us apart in delivering rehabilitative care, it needs a helping hand from a skilled, certified therapist.

Our therapists guide patients in learning how to use the equipment – proper posture, onscreen commands, joysticks, goggles – and feel safe and comfortable.

Therapy sessions are supervised and patient vitals are monitored throughout treatment.

There is also a motivational element to this type of therapy – challenge and reward. Health focused robotics give real-time feedback using visual, sound and sensory cues that can encourage patients to participate more in their sessions for better results. With game-like activities developed for specific types of rehabilitation, the feedback helps maintain proper movement and intensity. Here, too, our therapists adjust activities as a patient progresses through recovery.

Some of the motivational elements built into health robotics include:

  • Virtual reality exercises to increase range of motion and engage a patient in treatment
  • Simultaneous arm and hand therapy to work multiple body parts and improve strength
  • Immediate feedback on the therapy session to gauge performance

The field of rehabilitation robotics is powerful. For people challenged by stroke, spinal cord or brain injury it's part of our "medicine of mobility" approach to comprehensive rehabilitation.

Watch our video and subscribe to SelectMedicalTV on YouTube to learn more about our approach to advanced rehabilitation robotic technologies in our network of rehabilitation hospitals across the country.