Healthy Living

Robotic Legs Help Patients with Multiple Sclerosis Learn to Walk Again

Robotic Legs Help Patients with Multiple Sclerosis Learn to Walk Again

The Swedish Multiple Sclerosis Center in Seattle has introduced revolutionary technology that is designed to help people with walking disabilities to regain their strength and to get back on their feet again. Across the nation, the Medical Center is the first to use a device that bands brain-activated robot legs onto patients.

Designed by the Japanese company, Cyberdyne, hybrid assistive limb or HAL works by enhancing an individual’s neurotransmission to the legs, therefore improving their flexibility and mobility. It is the only approved system of its kind that interprets the brain’s electrical signals via the skin surface of the lower limbs and supports them in a mechanical manner.

How does HAL therapy work?

  • Think – When an individual moves their body, he or she first thinks about the motions in his or her brain. By thinking “I want to walk”, the brain sends out signals to the muscles, which HAL then picks up and translates into motion through the device.
  • Send – In a healthy body, each muscle is able to receive signals from the brain in order to move as strongly and as quickly as intended. When HAL picks up the signals, the muscles start to move.
  • Read – Weak signals, called bioelectric signals, are sent to the muscles by the brain. HAL is able to read these signals through the electrodes placed on the muscles in the legs.
  • Move – HAL is able to recognize what sorts of movements an individual deliberately desires to make, thus assisting them in their intended motion.
  • Provide feedback – When HAL has properly assisted an individual’s walking motions, positive feedback is sent back from the leg muscles to the brain. By this means, neuromuscular feedback is created and the brain is able to better understand the way to emit necessary signals so that a physically challenged individual can improve their mobility. Down the line, their condition can improve considerably, allowing them to walk gradually without being assisted by the device or other walking aids.

HAL therapy in the United States

When a spine surgeon from Seattle was first introduced to HAL, he wanted to try out the device on patients suffering from MS, stroke, and spinal cord injuries. Lucinda Hauser, a patient coping with MS for over 30 years, was among the first to try this therapy at the Swedish Multiple Sclerosis Center. “It’s honestly really hard to keep your spirits up. It seems like every year, every so many months, you’re giving up a little bit more,” she said. Being a rather athletic individual, Hauser had to give up running, skiing, and rock-climbing, one by one. Eventually, she needed a walker to get around. “I was thinking the walker was going to turn into a wheelchair which could turn into something even worse,” she said.

Read on to learn about how HAL helped Lucinda, and what it could mean for the future of anybody living with MS.

Photo: Walk Again Center