Wearable Robot Will Help Get Paraplegic Patients Up on Their Feet at Scripps

Rehabilitation Center at Scripps Encinitas the first in San Diego with Ekso

The Rehabilitation Center at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas is the first facility in San Diego County to acquire a wearable robot called Ekso, which helps get paraplegic patients out of a wheelchair and back on their feet.

The use of the device is not a cure for paralysis. The benefits of using the device include an increase in bone health, improved cardiovascular health, a reduced risk of pressure ulcers, and a lower risk of pneumonia and blood clots as a result of getting patients upright and out of a wheelchair for longer periods of time. Equally important is the hope that the device offers patients. The device was purchased through the LaVerne and Blaine Briggs Rehabilitation and Neuroscience Fund at Scripps Encinitas.

What are the benefits?

“Using robots such as the Ekso in a rehab setting offers a potential for improved outcomes for patients and gets them up and moving their muscles and joints in a way that they just couldn’t before,” said Michael Lobatz, MD, neurologist and medical director of the Rehabilitation Center at Scripps Encinitas. “Additionally, when someone who has been in a wheelchair for several years is able to stand, take steps and look someone in the eye, the mental benefits are enormous.”

How the wearable robot works

Ekso is an adjustable, portable, bionic exoskeleton designed to help some patients with lower-extremity paralysis or weakness stand up and walk. With the patient providing the balance and proper body positioning, Ekso allows them to take steps and walk. Most patients are able to use the device within a single one-hour session with a physical therapist. While the device weighs approximately 50 pounds, the user doesn’t support the weight of the device as it is instead transferred into the ground through the Ekso frame.

“I can’t begin to describe what it was like to be up and walking again, it was a remarkable experience and very comfortable,” said Hermes Castro, a paraplegic athlete who recently tried the Ekso device at Scripps Encinitas. “To look down and see that my feet were moving was just incredible. I didn’t think this day would come so quickly.”

Beginning in the summer, an upgrade to the Ekso device will allow Scripps to use it for stroke rehabilitation in addition to spinal cord injury rehabilitation. The upgrade will enable the device to assist patients who are paralyzed on only one side of their body, a condition called hemiplegia that often results from a stroke.

Rehabilitation at Scripps

The Rehabilitation Center at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas is a comprehensive rehabilitation facility in northern San Diego County, providing a full range of physical rehabilitation services with specialization in neuroscience services. It is the first facility to be fully accredited in both brain injury and stroke rehabilitation services by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) — the gold standard for medical rehabilitation facilities — and is entrusted by the U. S. military with care of returning servicemen’s combat-related traumatic brain injuries.

Scripps Encinitas is also a leader in the use of technology for rehabilitation, incorporating high tech treatment modalities into its inpatient and outpatient therapy programs. In addition to the wearable robot for patients with spinal cord injuries, the Rehabilitation Center offers a sophisticated gait assessment laboratory; an interactive, zero-risk driving simulator used to perform comprehensive driving evaluations; and an anti-gravity treadmill used in orthopedic rehabilitation.

Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.

Media Contact

Kristin Reinhardt
619-686-3787
reinhardt.kristin@scrippshealth.org