Physical therapy is all about helping patients restore physical abilities. While technology has played a role in physical therapy for some time, there are some new advances that are dramatically improving the outcomes for some patients.
From things as familiar as smartphone apps to advance pieces of equipment, the latest trends for physical therapy tech hold a lot of promise. The following are five ways technology is changing modern physical therapy.
Physical Therapy Apps
With the ubiquity of smartphones, it only makes sense that physical therapists would try to make use of the devices that nearly everyone carries around with them. Physical therapy apps can provide a wide range of tools for physical therapy professionals and their patients.
There are many physical therapists who utilize this kind of technology in order to better serve their patients. Having direct access to physical therapy in New Jersey and numerous other states is just one such advantage made possible through the utilization of such apps.
Patients and physical therapists can use apps to help with home exercise programs (HEP), diagnostic tools, clinical tests, and more. These apps can help patients stay on track with their physical therapy while also allowing healthcare professionals to manage their care better.
Rehab on a Gaming Console
Patients can also use video game technology like the Nintendo Wii or the Microsoft Kinect for rehabilitation. By using games, the patient is more engaged in the physical therapy. This can work to motivate patients when it comes to their HEPs and it can also act as a tool that will help doctors monitor patient activity and track the progress of the patient.
Virtual Reality (VR) has received a lot of hype as an entertainment technology, but the potential goes much further than that. With VR as a physical therapy technology, you can make the experience more engaging and more enjoyable for patients.
As a simple application, programs could be made to put patients in nicer, more scenic settings when they are using equipment like treadmills or stationary bikes. Beyond that, programmers could also gamify the experience to add an element of fun and keep patients motivated during rehabilitation.
The Robotic Treadmill
Treadmills have played an important role in physical therapy for a long time. However, the conventional treadmill is lacking in a few ways. First, it often requires the assistance of at least one physical therapy professional to facilitate gait training. Beyond that, it is hard for many patients to achieve a natural or reproducible gait on a treadmill and the strain usually limits the amount of time they can work on the machine.
To solve this problem Hocoma developed the Lokomat. The Lokomat is a robotics-assisted treadmill. With this piece of equipment, a harness holds the patient over the treadmill and their legs are fitted into a pair of robotic legs. This takes much of the strain off the physical therapy professional and it helps the patient to regain their ability to walk with a natural gait. Along with that, it allows the patient to do more repetitions to shorten the recovery time.
Exoskeletons in Physical Therapy
Various exoskeletons are being developed to help patients with physical therapy. An exoskeleton can be used to help patients with different levels of paralysis or with hemiparesis. With the exoskeleton supporting the body and assisting with movement, the patient can practice walking and other activities in a way that is safer and with movements that are more natural.
One example is the EksoGT from Ekso Bionics. Once the patient is in the exoskeleton, there are different methods to help the patient walk. In the beginning, the therapist can use controls to create the steps, then the patient can move on to using the controls, and then the patient can move on to walking in a way that is more natural by using their body weight to make the steps. This exoskeleton has been shown to improve walking distance, gait speed, and functional balance.
These technologies are not going to replace the physical therapy professional. There are still a lot of things a machine or computer program cannot do. With that said, these high-tech tools can work to keep patients more engaged, provide them with a better experience and help to provide better outcomes.