Man is distinguished from the animal world by his advanced ability to reason, problem solve and reflect on the way he (or she) thinks.
Our unique ability to walk upright also sets us apart. However, with injuries, disease and aging, this becomes more of a challenge for many.
Some have described walking as a controlled fall; throughout our lives, the nervous system must complexly and accurately coordinate our body to avoid injury and progressive demise.
Unfortunately, one out of three adults over 65 fall each year; this is a huge challenge for aging individuals and healthcare (Stevens J, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2012). Clinical approaches, tools, and thinking about how to best manage this epidemic need to be re-evaluated.
First, traditional assistive devices have included items such as canes, walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs. While these can be of some value, their researched ability to reduce long-term fall risk has not been shown.
Second, trunk weakness, tightness, and postural issues become increasingly relevant after individuals are confined to sitting activities.
All of this can lead to muscle imbalances, abnormal stresses on the spine (and other joints), pain, and deconditioning. While electric chairs are available to help people transfer to standing, and electric wheelchairs to get around, these devices too often enable individuals to become progressively sedentary.
This trend further reduces functional mobility and health. Individuals quickly fall in to a vicious chronic cycle of weakness, instability, fear of movement, pain and reduced activity.
Third, for those who are committed to breaking this chronic cycle, it can be helpful to look outside the traditional box for innovative new therapeutic tools.
Therapeutic Exercise to Reduce Risk
Consistent therapeutic exercise can help to reverse this trend (Gillespie, L, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012) and a doctor of physical therapy’s evaluation and treatment can be a tremendous asset. To advance functionally, however, people at times require strategic external support to increase exercise and walking tolerance.
For individuals with severe weakness causing foot drop, an effective (and relatively inexpensive) innovation example is the “Step-Smart” (made by Insightful Products); foot drop is a common condition involving neurological weakness in the ankle which leads to gait inefficiency, compensatory deviations and heightened fall risk.
Backsmith Selective Stabilization Support
Next, another relatively inexpensive unique innovation tool is the Backsmith Selective Stabilization Support functional exercise device.
For people who are not able to walk well due to back-related weakness, pain, and instability, the Backsmith support device can provide significant improvement with pain, functional walking stability, exercise tolerance, strength, and posture.
This twice-patented functional exercise device frequently is a useful tool to break cycles of chronic pain by providing very strategic and localized back pressure support.
Individuals who even lack significant back pain still can present with spine-related weakness which is a neurological driver for pain and instability in the hips and legs.
Time is of the Essence
Without timely care, people who are not walking well can develop compensatory movement patterns which result in weakness, deconditioning and reluctance to move. This contributes to the nervous system to get ramped up and abnormally sensitive.
Those ending up in a wheelchair with poor back support often become more impaired. Research has shown even the general population sits too much resulting in a negative impact on health and mortality (US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity).
Finally, not all support devices are the same at meeting the unique mechanical and neurological needs of individuals. To keep our country moving optimally, Americans need to take an active and assertive approach to their health decisions, and health care needs to be more consumer-driven.
Appropriate nontraditional innovations can make a big impact in helping meet unmet needs and improving functional outcomes and expense; this includes demanding quality research on nontraditional innovations.
The right tool for the job can make all the difference!