A big smile breaks across David Phillips’ face as he looks down at his legs pumping slowly on the stationary bike. Though his legs were paralyzed by back surgery gone awry in December, synchronized electrical stimulation of the nerves is contracting his muscles and helping him pedal the cycle at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.
“When you have to sit still like this, it’s nice to get up and move,” Phillips said. “It gets the juices flowing.”
The FES Cycle at Walton is just one piece of newer technology that has some proven benefit, according to a review by three doctoral physical therapy students doing a clinical rotation at Walton. It ranges from simple plastic or metal molded tools used to break up scar adhesions in soft tissue to a large $400,000 piece of technology that looks like a pair or robot legs that can help patients learn correctly how to walk again.
Walton is looking for “technologies that are going to generate better outcomes,” President and CEO Dennis Skelley said.
The students chose technology for which there was documented evidence from clinical trials that showed it helped. For instance, rehab using virtual reality and games like the Wii offer practical benefits to regain function or balance but are also enjoyable, said Luke Abney, a third-year student at the University of South Carolina.
“It can be a fun way for patients to get involved in the therapy,” he said.
That is one reason Walton physical therapist Lindsay Chambers pushed to get the FES cycle after hearing from patients who had tried it elsewhere “just how much they really enjoyed it and the benefit they saw from it,” she said. For Phillips, for instance, it is not just helping him move muscles and get a cardiovascular benefit from the workout but getting the nerves and muscles firing in the right way, Chambers said.
“It’s coordinating your muscles so your muscles know how to act together,” she told Phillips as he pedaled away.
It also gives him a boost in other ways, Chambers said.
“Getting active and being active is really important emotionally and psychologically,” she said.
Among the students’ recommendations is creating an intra-facility agreement with Georgia Health Sciences University to use its driving simulator more and eventually enlarging the pool at Walton to take advantage of more water-based therapy.
While there is a lot of technology out there, it still takes trained personnel to really benefit, said Jonathan Kruse, a doctoral physical therapy student at GHSU.
“There’s a lot to say for the skill and therapy the physical therapist is providing,” he said.