Robotics as a New Treatment For Crouch Gait in Kids With CP
A promising new treatment for symptoms of crouch gait in kids who have cerebral palsy is getting plenty of media attention these days. (For more information on crouch gait itself see here). The treatment is a robot exoskeleton which is wearable.
The CDC reports that CP (cerebral palsy) is triggered by damage which is neurological and which happens before birth, during birth or post-birth. CP is a movement disorder and it’s the movement disorder that children suffer from the most. It limits independence and mobility. Kids with CP become adults with CP. The condition lasts for a lifetime. Right now, half a million kids in America have cerebral palsy.
According to an Assistant Professor (Mechanical Engineering, at the Center for Bioengineering Innovation, at Northern Arizona University Center), whose name is Zach Lerner, a brace for the leg which gets its power from compact motors, may be the key to easing crouch gait symptoms in kids who have CP.
A study performed by Lerner was published in a journal called Translational Medicine, and it explored the possibility that wearable robotic exoskeletons might be helpful in terms of minimizing crouch gait difficulties.
Lerner found that novel exoskeletons were useful for easing crouch gait problems, which are known to be some of the worst problems that kids with CP experience. In a trial which lasted several weeks, seven kids with cerebral palsy, who ranged in age from five to nineteen, were fitted with these robotic accessories. The accessories were customized in order to help kids with knee extension during certain elements of the walking process.
Kids Could Walk On Their Own
Once the children were fitted with these exoskeletons, they began some practice sessions. When the trial concluded, all seven kids were able to walk with better posture, versus results that would typically be derived from orthopedic surgery, which is invasive. The exoskeletons gave youngsters the power to walk without assistance. This is good news for youngsters with CP. Robotic exoskeletons may help them to avoid surgery, by offering better outcomes than orthopedic surgery.
Surgery always comes with risks, such as the risk of bleeding and infection. As well, it requires preparation and recovery time. If there is a surgery-free way to improve crouch gait, it signifies a new advance in non-invasive CP treatment for kids who do have crouch gait issues.
The skilled and dedicated researchers on Lerner’s team showed that improvement in crouch gait continued throughout the duration of the trial. This exploratory trial was held in Bethesda, Maryland, at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.
According to details from the published study about this innovative trial, the robotic exoskeletons were tolerated well by kids and were also safe to wear. Children found that wearing them gave them the ability to walk on their own. These exoskeletons work by changing posture dynamically. They provide assistance to the knee in bursts which improve posture. These robot exoskeletons help to empower children by offering them ability to walk by themselves.
These Accessories May Be Alternative Therapy Options
The research team feels that these exoskeletons are viable and alternative forms of therapy (and good choices as treatment options which are provided alongside traditional therapies) for crouch-related problems. Examples of traditional therapies for these problems include muscle injections, surgery which is orthopedic and (PT) physical therapy.
As the leader of the Biomechatronics Labs at NAU, Lerner is committed to boosting mobility and functioning in people who have musculoskeletal and neuromuscular difficulties. He wants to spearhead improvements via biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering.
Usually, alternative therapies for kids with CP are not this high-tech. For example, hippotherapy, which involves using equine (horse) movements in order to help children with sensory processing problems, does not require any technology at all. Acupuncture is another alternative therapy for youngsters with CP which is very low-tech. Aquatic therapy is also a popular and low-tech form of alternative or complementary therapy.
Robotic exoskeletons are ultra-modern ways to help children walk with better posture and increased comfort. In the future, these robotic exoskeletons may be common treatment choices. They may even become traditional treatment options, rather than options which are alternative treatments. Time will tell if this treatment makes it into the mainstream. Study results are very promising, so the future looks brighter for youth with cerebral palsy.