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Robots help patients manage their pain

December 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Robots are no longer just science fiction. They are part of our everyday lives helping us build cars and even do everyday chores like vacuum our floors. Now, see how robots are also being used by physical therapists to help patients manage pain.Just two weeks before 23-year-old Marine Mike Delancey was scheduled to return home from Iraq, his worst nightmare happened.

"The bullet hit and came through my left shoulder and it basically travelled across my spine," said Delancey.

His family was told he wouldn't make it.

"I knew it wasn't my time to go," said Delancey.

Mike survived but was left paralyzed. Now, part of his recovery is getting his game back.

"If I try to do certain things like shoot a basketball, you know, it comes right here, and you don't have that right motion," said Delancey.

Mike turned to a robot for help. It works by lengthening tight muscles. A physical therapist positions the mechanical arm over the targeted area. Built-in sensors are programmed to apply a specific amount of pressure.

"It starts actually very subtly, moving and hunting," said Al Meilus, president of Meilus Muscular Therapy & Sports. "It fools the muscle fibers to go and come apart and go from an adhered state."

"It was horrible. I was completely crippled," said Dave Hutchieson.

After a chiropractor dislocated his joint, Dave Hutchieson was told he would never walk again. The former paratrooper didn't lose hope.

After a couple months with the robot, he was walking normally. Mike is seeing improvement too. He's back in the game.

And he's ready to roll with whatever his life brings.

The robot is always operated by a trained physical therapist or a doctor. It's designed to be used in conjunction with other therapies. A session with the robot costs about $150 an hour, but in some cases it's covered by insurance.

Web Extra Information:

PHYSICAL INJURIES THAT LEAD TO THERAPY:

There are many injuries that can contribute to requiring physical therapy. These can include chronic pains, ACL tears, carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, sprains/strains, tennis elbow, arthritis, scoliosis and many more. A popular injury requiring physical therapy is an injury dealing with the spinal cord.

According to the Spinal Cord Organization, a spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in loss of mobility and feeling or function of the body. SCIs are not the same as back injuries, like pinched nerves or ruptured disks. Some injury risk factors include: limited flexibility, muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, muscle fatigue, joint laxity, leg length discrepancy, and being overweight.

TREATMENTS FOR INJURIES:

R.I.C.E. is a popular acronym to follow in the treatment of acute injuries such as a sprain, a strain, a muscle pull, or a muscle tear, according to the Medical Review Board. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are the key treatments in the R.I.C.E protocol. These four immediate aids can limit swelling, relieve pain and protect injured tissues.

The National Library of Medicine also suggests taking an anti-inflammatory medication or Tylenol to reduce pain and swelling in the first few days of the injury. If the injury is not acute, the Sports Injury Clinic suggests that the need for surgery, rehabilitation, a sports massage, stretching exercises or strengthening exercises may be needed.

ROBOTIC THERAPY:

Robotic therapy is a non-invasive therapy designed to make corrections to areas of the body in pain. The therapy is used with an engineering approach by the Meilus Muscular Therapy & Sports Company. A patient's body is analyzed to determine the source of pain before starting therapy with the robot.

Once the pain is identified, a robot uses a manipulation wand to apply gentle pressure to the connective tissue that is causing the pain and returns the muscle to its normal state by releasing waste build-up. When the build-up is gone, the tissue is softened, and relief of the pressure is near along with the restoration of normal blood flow to promote further healing.

This robot is used to help with back pain, spinal cord injuries, sciatica, headaches, carpal tunnel, bursitis, tennis elbow, sprains and strains, and arthritis, among other ailments.


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