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New advances in spinal injury rehabilitation

Car crashes and other accidents can cause a wide variety of serious injuries. Some of the most debilitating injuries are brain injuries and injuries to the back or spine. Brain injuries often cause cognitive issues that can range from temporary forgetfulness or loss of acuity and headaches to very severe and permanent loss of mental capacity. Spine and back injuries can range from minor nerve damage to quadriplegia.

Treatment and rehabilitation for these injuries can be a arduous, painful and costly process. In many cases a full recovery is not possible. In those cases the treatment and rehabilitation will transition to accommodating the permanent effects of the injuries. Fortunately new technology is making great strides in allowing individuals with spinal injuries to perform activities that, in the past had been impossible. One of the most exciting new advances are robotic exoskeletons.

Not long ago devices like robotic exoskeletons existed only in the realm of science fiction for super heroes like Iron Man, but today they can be found in rehabilitation centers and going forward, possible helping a paralyzed individual to walk down the sidewalk.

The exoskeletons are metal frames which brace a patient's legs and provide support and motorized movement of the joints so that an individual who might otherwise be confined to a wheelchair might stand and walk. While several prototypes exist, they are still being developed and the designers hope that they will be available for home use within the next few years.

In addition to providing additional mobility and the ability to stand, these devices may also provide medical benefits for their users. By standing and moving their legs rather than always being seated in a chair, patients may see reduced muscle spasms and tightness, as well as improved circulation.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Philadelphia is a hotbed of robotic frames that help paralysis victims walk," Tom Avril , May 13, 2012

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