Robots that get paralysed muscles moving, walking aids that replace the wheelchair: assistive technologies are gaining ground and there are great expectations of revolutionary discoveries. The objective of technology is to provide optimal support for people with a disability in order to make their lives easier.

The Swiss Paraplegic Centre (SPC) supported the ETH by means of a cooperative partnership for the development of the “Varileg” robotic walking aid.

Robotics are already part of day-to-day therapy in the SPC. Assistive technology is an integral component in the rehabilitation of people with a spinal cord injury. Robotics support patients as they regain their motor abilities. We also use them in the therapeutic area to alleviate spasticity and pain. A robot-assisted device basically makes it possible to perform a movement that people with a spinal cord injury would not be able to perform without support.

Robotics are particularly helpful in cases with residual nerve and muscle functions. The aim is to stimulate these nerves and muscles again and to train them. The nervous system can be activated by means of numerous repetitions. “It learns when we repeat the same movement thousands of times.”

Robotics cannot perform miracles. In the vast majority of cases, it is neither possible nor the aim for people with a spinal cord injury to use a Lokomat or Motionmaker to learn to walk completely again. Instead, the aim is to reach goals that have been set together. For example, turning over in bed, lifting the legs slightly during a transfer from the wheelchair into the car, or moving the fork to one's mouth. These are all important skills that make things significantly easier for people with a spinal cord injury in their day-to-day life.

 

Your path to outpatient robotics therapy

  • 1. First step

    Once you or your doctor has contacted us using the contact form or by telephone, the Robotics Specialist will deal with your enquiry. Together you will discuss your expectations, possible therapeutic goals and the most suitable training plan for you.

    2. Additional information by e-mail

    2. Additional information by e-mail

    In the next step, you will receive an e-mail containing information and asking you to send us your medical documents. Before your appointment in the SPC, your GP needs to issue a medical prescription (in German: ärztliche Verordnung) and an approved payment guarantee (in German: Kostengutsprache). (You will find the link to the templates below). We will then be in an even better position to assess your personal situation and your therapy requirements.

    3. Investigation and start of therapy

    3. Investigation and start of therapy

    Once all the preparatory stages have been completed, you will be invited to an evaluation comprising a medical examination and an assessment by a therapist. The various exercises in the assessment help us to adapt your training to your exact situation and to assess your current condition in detail. Once you have scheduled the therapy units with the Robotics Specialist, you start training on the device.

    4. Progress and continued therapy

    4. Progress and continued therapy

    Towards the end of your therapy, you will be evaluated by the therapist. The aim of this evaluation is to measure and quantify your progress with regard to your defined goals. The results are discussed with the responsible doctor. You will then receive a recommendation about how to best continue your therapy.

     

    Information for referring physicians - Patient registration form

     

Various robotic devices are used at the SPC:

  • People with a spinal cord injury are fitted into the Lokomat, which enables them to walk on a treadmill with body weight support. A robotic exoskeleton attached to their legs provides physical assistance. The speed, body weight support and guiding force can be adjusted on a case-by-case basis.

  • People with a spinal cord injury can use the exoskeleton to walk with two helpers and crutches. After a weight shift, the machine initiates a step and the person moves his or her legs at the same time. The aim is not only to learn to walk again, as the device offers numerous benefits. Walking upright is good for blood flow and circulation. It also gives patients a better sense of balance and has a cramp-alleviating effect in paralysed muscles, which reduces spasticity and cramps. It can even help to improve sitting upright in the wheelchair. The exoskeleton can also alleviate nerve pain to a certain degree.

  • Robotic arms are available to people with limited arm and hand function. These devices counterbalance the weight of the patient’s arm, which makes it as easy as possible for patients to perform various movements. The devices are connected to a computer. Therefore, patients can play video games by moving the arm. This strengthens muscles and improves coordination. The robotic arm helps to activate residual muscle functions.

  • The MotionMaker is an assistive technology that enables people with a spinal cord injury to perform bending, stretching and cycling movements with their legs. The special aspect here is that movements are initiated and supported by means of electrical stimulation, which stimulates the nerves. Cyclical and light electrical impulses cause the leg muscles to tense and relax, and thus to move. The device also stimulates and strengthens paralysed muscles. This can be particularly useful for the muscles in the buttocks. It means that the body can develop its own padding to help prevent pressure sores.

Our specialists

  • Andris Ladner, Robotics Spezialist

    Andris Ladner

    Robotics Specialist
  • jed

    Jessica Decker

    Head of therapy management
  • Oberson Pirmin-Therapiemanagement

    Pirmin Oberson

    Head of therapy management
  • Michael Baumberger, Chefarzt Paraplegiologie

    Dr. med. Michael Baumberger

    Head of Spinal Cord and Rehabilitation Medicine

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