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A step forward in motor function

01 May 2012

We take a walk through the astonishing world of Lokomat gait therapy and find out how fractional horsepower motor technology is helping paraplegics to recovery.

The patient is supported by a harness and then guided by a pair of motorised orthoses, which walk at a steady pace on a treadmil

People suffering from paraplegia could soon find their prospects of walking radically improved thanks to a new technological gait therapy called Lokomat. A joint development of Hocoma AG and Balgrist University Hospital, Lokomat therapy is the result of a greater understanding of motor learning in neurologically-impaired patients. The body is encouraged to learn new movements by training, a very high number of repetitions imitating the motion exactly.

Although locomotion therapy for neuromuscular diseases is not new, the specialised technology involved in Lokomat brings it into a field of its own. Since their legs are unable to fully move or carry the patient’s body alone, he or she is supported by a harness and then guided by a pair of motorised orthoses, which walk at a steady pace on a treadmill.

Although the machine is taking most of the weight, the walking nevertheless feels extremely natural. The robotic legs – each housing a maxon RE 40 motor, gearhead and brake – are synchronised to match the treadmill’s motion with enough precision to challenge the patient’s own legs without harming them.

As a result, patients can train more precisely, and for longer, than with traditional manual therapy techniques; and because only one therapist is required to work with the patient instead of two, hospitals are able to make twice as much therapy time available.

Already, results have been dramatic. As many as 25% of paraplegic patients can expect to benefit from the new technology. The improvement rate doubles again in cases of hemiplegia - conditions where one whole side of a patient’s body is paralysed. maxon senior sales engineer Ian Bell takes up the story:

“The Lokomat is a stunning piece of engineering, and the fact that maxon motors, because of their reliability and sheer precision, now form an integral part of helping to rehabilitate so many disabled people is something that makes us all tremendously proud.

“maxon engineers worked closely with the design team over a number of months to specify a solution with exactly the right mix of dynamics and power density, and maximised service life. To see lives being changed as a result is truly touching.”

The Lokomat is now being introduced to the global market, and appears likely to be adopted by an increasing number of UK hospitals; another step in pushing forward the boundaries of medical technology.


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