Locomotor training a waste of time?Jun 07 05:13
Maybe I've been paralyzed too long, but there are a bunch of new therapy programs out there that I question.
Let me preemptively say that locomotor training has a lot of great benefits (it's good for weight-bearing, making your muscles move, organ-hanging party time). It's a pretty intense therapy where they strap you into a harness (that's attached to a bar above your head) and hang you above a treadmill.
Then they hook your legs up to an electric stimulator that moves the necessary muscles in your legs that are required to walk, and assistants help move your feet. And walk you do, on a treadmill for as long as your body (and pocketbook) will allow.
The issue I have with locomotor training is that it's being touted as pretty miraculous. It isn't (I'm still waiting for the real miracle therapy to show it‘s face). It's fancy, it's pretty nifty, even some researchers say that repetitive use of locomotor training may awake "muscle memory," which could return the ability to move and feel one’s legs.
This notion was first championed by Christopher Reeve actually. I want to believe it works, but I've yet to see any complete injury walk off a locomotor treadmill on their own after using it for an extended period This isn’t a challenge; I’m sure there are a lot of incompletes who it’s helped walk again, but for the completes….can it really help us walk?
Another issue I have is that it's so damned expensive. Most state insurances won't cover it unless you're a brand new injury. It has become an elitist type of therapy, which is sadly the way a lot of new SCI therapies are becoming. Avatar, anyone?
Also, for a lot of people who are limited by insurance, once they get into it (which can take at least 15 to 20 minutes to get into), their time for the actual walking is almost eaten up. I've had two friends tell me this personally (and they've switched over to using just a FES bike combined with a standing frame instead).
What’s your opinion of locomotor training? Have you tried it? Or am I wrong about it completely? Share your thoughts!
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1. BlueZoneCJohn | Jun 07 06:01
Tiff, Glad you had the courage to write what I have been thinking for a LONG time!
2. Bob V | Jun 08 01:37
Tiff, OUTSTANDING BLOG! My real pet peeve with locomotor training is the barrage of media coverage that tout this as a miracle as in "Through this revolutionary therapy, and sheer willpower he/she overcame paralysis and is now running marathons..." never mentioning (as you point out) the person had an incomplete injury to begin with. I also seriously question the weird claims that go something like this, "the lower body and spinal cord know how to walk, and locomotor training re-awakens this ability". REALLY? So if you are successful, and your brain can't communicate with your lower body does that mean the lower body will just "decide" to go for a walk or jog when it feels like it? I also appreciate that you point out locomotor training IS good for bones, joints etc. IF you have the time and money. For a person with a complete injury, it is my opinion that time and money is much better invested in college, travel, adventure, living a full life.
3. Bob V | Jun 08 01:42
More pet peeves about locomotor training--when the media covers the success stories (and fail to mention the person's injury is incomplete) the "through sheer willpower" flat out tells the general public that me and you and anybody with a complete injury remain in a chair because we are weak-willed.
4. Tiffiny | Jun 08 02:02
I was worried my post would annoy some people, but I had to get it off my chest :)
5. Priority Seating | Jun 08 03:54
I volunteer and do social media for a research center in Vancouver and as an incomplete paraplegic, I've been a "guinea pig" for some of their Locomotor-related experiments. Personally, I've found that the training didn't help with my legs' sensation but helped with my leg muscles; I can now position my legs better than before when standing or taking the five steps or so that I can take at a time. Most notably, I've increased an improvement in my bladder and bowel function, which is the most problematic SCI side effect I have. Every time I use it, everything "drains" very well into the bag and everything "empties" very well during my BP. But in terms of helping me walk, I'm still nowhere near unassisted or independent walking. So I find that while the articles about Locomotor training focus a lot on walking, perhaps more focus should be paid on its non-walking benefits.
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Tiffiny Carlson is freelance writer and writes the “SCI Life” column for New Mobility. She's also a C6 quad from a diving accident that occurred when she was 14 years old. A lifelong resident of Minneapolis, Tiffiny has been a writer in the disability community for over 10 years and writes for several publications and blogs, as well as her personal blog BeautyAbility. Her work has also appeared in mainstream publications such as Nerve.com and Playgirl.