The Lokomat at Pushing Boundaries
In July of 2011 I started going to a gym called Pushing Boundaries. This is a gym specifically for people with physical disabilities. The range of disabilities served include paraplegics, quadriplegics, stroke & multiple sclerosis. Pushing Boundaries has an incredible machine called lokomat. It is a glorified treadmill. The purpose of its use depends on the individual’s disability. For hemiplegics and paraplegics the benefits include increased blood circulation and bone density. For stroke survivors it works on neuro-muscular re-education and improvement of the walking gait. This is why I go there. There is a YouTube video of me on it. Its URL is below. The following explanation of how it works will make the most sense after viewing the video.
Watch a video of me on the lokopad. Paste the link below into the URL box.
The therapist puts me in a very tight harness that goes around the abdomen. It is so tight I now think I know what a corset must have been like for women in the past! Once on the lokomat I am suspended by an overhead lift. I call it my Baron Harkonen moment. While suspended the therapist attaches robotic arms to my legs, starts the treadmill and slowly lowers me onto it while the robotic arms move my legs in the proper mechanics of the walking gait. Simple enough but this where the work for me begins. In front of me are 2 screens with moving line graphs displayed on them. One screen monitors the left leg, the other the right. Each screen has 2 lines a white one and a red one. The white line monitors the front muscles, the red, the back. The lines on the graph indicate how much effort I am exerting in each muscle group. We start with one muscle group in my non-effected or strong leg. I set a baseline on the graph using that muscle for 30 seconds, then we switch to the weak leg and work that same muscle group trying to meet the baseline set by the strong leg, very hard to do! The therapist coaches me on timing of the activation of my muscles because if I activate them to soon or too late in the gait the muscle isn’t effective and I walk incorrectly. After 30 seconds we switch to another muscle involved in gait. We usually do 2 rounds of this followed by other less specific walking work. After this we remove the harness and I can breathe again! Then we move to the weight room and work on these specific muscle groups again with weights. We also walk to try to integrate the work on the lokopad into my unassisted walking gait.
I am now 5 years out from my stroke. Of all the therapies I continue to do, the work at on the lokomat is the most powerful in developing strength and correcting my gait. My gait is still not correct but I keep working at it. I was told in the hospital that whatever gains I make in improvement will come in the 1st 2 years after my stroke. Well after 5 years I am still making progress, albeit slow progress. I believe the brain is an incredibly plastic organ and that there will always be improvement. This is why my other part time job continues to be therapy!