They are the movements most of us take for granted: stepping onto a curb, bending over to pick up a dropped pen or standing up to greet a loved one who just got home. For patients recovering from a physical injury or diagnosed with a neurological condition, these actions can seem almost impossible without assistance.
“It can be very difficult to properly train patients with gait and balance issues because they are unable to properly exercise the muscles needed to help them recover without falling,” said Amanda Roura, a physical therapist and supervisor at UF Health Rehabilitation – Emerson. “Their instability tends to feed their fear of falling and that itself can become a major barrier to their improvement.”
Patients at UF Health Rehabilitation – Emerson are now able to complete a full range of motions with the Bioness Vector System. The vector system suspends a patient below a robotic trolley that moves with them and holds them up using a harness, which incorporates two shoulder straps that are attached to an overhead bar. UF Health Rehabilitation – Emerson is the only location in Northeast Florida with the vector system.
“This robotic walking track truly is a game changer,” Roura said. “We can really challenge a patient’s balance once they are in the harness. They are able to stand on one leg, climb stairs and do lunges and squats.”
Therapists use a wireless control unit to assist patients, and even tweak the treatment, as they move. The harness is so secure it can pull patients up out of their wheelchairs and into a standing position. If a patient falls, the harness will catch them.
“Prior to the vector, we did most of our therapy using the parallel bars, which limited us to doing mostly reaching exercises,” said Lauren Casanova, a neurological therapist at UF Health Rehabilitation Services. “Sometimes it required more than one therapist.”
Casanova says the vector system has been extremely beneficial for patients with Parkinson’s disease or those who are recovering from a stroke because it allows them to practice larger movements.
“The harness provides them with the freedom and ability to really go for it without worrying if we are going to be able to catch them,” Casanova said. “I can have patients walk backwards or step over things, which was not possible before the vector.”
The vector system can hold up to 500 pounds and loops on a closed track configuration. There are multiple settings to help provide real-world experience for adult and pediatric patients recovering from stroke, amputations, and orthopaedic, brain and spinal cord injuries.
“It is truly rewarding to help a patient progress in their treatments to the point where they can walk without having to use or rely on their assistive devices,” Roura said. “This is another tool we can use to help our patients regain that independence.”
UF Health Rehabilitation – Emerson is a 10,000-square-foot facility that includes two gyms filled with the latest, specialized equipment for orthopaedic, sports rehabilitation and neurological balance training. Visit UFHealthJax.org/rehabilitation-services for more information.