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Bio-Inspired Robotic Devices Create New PT, OT, SLP Opportunities

The medical advances in robotic devices that can improve large and small motor activity and speech functions will create new opportunities for allied health therapists  because  the intensive therapy will be needed to teach patients how to use the bio-feedback from this breakthrough technology.

A dramatic example of the quality of life improvements afforded by devices of this kind is a soft, wearable device that mimics the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower leg. Yong-Lae Park, an assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, working with collaborators at Harvard University, developed an active orthotic device using soft plastics and composite materials, instead of a rigid exoskeleton. The soft materials, combined with pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), lightweight sensors and advanced control software, made it possible for the robotic device to achieve natural motions in the ankle.  You can read about this  development in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Park believes  the same approach could be used to create rehabilitative devices for other joints of the body or even to create soft exoskeletons that increase the strength of the wearer.

While conventional passive ankle braces can improve gait, long-term use can lead to muscle atrophy because of disuse.  On the other hand, patients may find it difficult to manage the robotic biofeedback well enough to improve muscular control.  Physical or occupational therapy is needed to teach patients how to control locomotion via biofeedback.  SLPs , or example, would teach patients to improve larynx muscle control.

General training for PTs, OTs, and SLPs on improving control of limb locomotion via biofeedback is less likely to be effective than device specific training which should typically be available through the manufacturer.

There are other potential uses for robotics, including the psychological world. Researchers at Wexner Medical Center noted the group that used a robotic for better arm mobility also found- “Study participants who trained with the robotic arm also reported feeling stronger and more positive about the rehabilitation process.”  Apparently, use of the bionic arm can convince patients to work harder on their recovery.

With the evidence of the direct and indirect benefits of bio-robotic devices rapidly mounting, the opportunities for therapists who have been trained in managing locomotion through biofeedback is only going to increase.

Robert M. Hoyt, Ph.D. President, Allied Health Professional, LLC

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