Space suit helps rehabilitate stroke patients
7 March 2008
Researchers at the Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems in Moscow
have turned a space suit, originally designed to exercise cosmonauts
bodies in weightless conditions, into an efficient therapeutic agent for
rehabilitation of patients after a stroke.
Cosmonauts (and astronauts) that stay for long periods in a state of
weightlessness and without habitual physical activity suffer from
muscular atrophy, impairment of sensorimotor functions and loss of
natural curves in the spine. To solve the problem, specialists of the
Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems developed a special suit called
the 'Penguin', which the cosmonauts wear during the lengthy flights. The
suit creates artificial axial loads on the musculoskeletal frame to
compensate for the lack of physical activity.
The effects of weightlessnes on the body are surprisingly similar to
impairments that occur to people suffering from stroke or head trauma.
Every year, more than 450,000 people in Russia endure a stroke — the
most acute form of the cerebral vascular pathology, and various
disordered motor functions, such as paralysis or paresis — the most
frequent consequences of disordered cerebral circulation and
craniocerebral traumas. Approximately 75% to 80% of persons who suffer a
stroke or a craniocerebral trauma lose the ability to work and become
Specialists of the Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems have adapted
a space suite to the needs of terrestrial patients and created the
'Regent' medicinal suit. This is designed to help the restoration of
movement and rehabilitation of the patients after a stroke or a
Expensive and bulky test benches that are used to rehabilitate
patients can occupy a whole room. The Regent suite consists of just a
vest, shorts and knee-caps. They are put on the patient and used both as
a complex and individually, depending on the degree of motor system
lesion and treatment stages.
The medicinal suit foundation consists of elastic loading elements
and weight-lifting recoil. They are fixed on a supporting structure, and
produce controlled influence on certain muscle groups. The muscles that
received the loading send a signal to the cerebrum which, in turn, gives
them a response command to contract or relax. Thus, neuronal bonds
(which were lost due to a stroke or a craniocerebral trauma) are
restored or formed anew. The persons, who were recently bedridden, learn
afresh to keep a vertical posture and to walk, but their rehabilitation
goes much quicker and more successfully than patients undergoing a
traditional rehabilitation course.
The ten-year clinical trials of the medicinal suit, which finished at
the end of last year, proved that the patients who had done exercises
every day for 10 to 15 days in the Regent suit (depending on the age —
from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours) significantly increased their dynamic
stability and decreased the paresis degree, compared to the reference
group patients rehabilitated by traditional methods.
After the medicinal suit treatment, 47% patients could move easily,
while the reference group contained only 25% of such patients. One of
the clinics participating in the trials of the suit reported that
patients improved not only their motor functions but also language
functions. However, this effect is still to be thoroughly investigated.
Commenting on the impressive success in treating stroke/craniocerebral
trauma patients, Irina Sayenko, senior staff scientist, Institute of
Medico-Biologic Problems said that, according to patients no simulator
provides such clear positive motivation — they overcome the fear of
falling and they start feeling their own extremities. She said that this
is quite natural, as the Regent suit construction contains no rigid,
sharp elements that cause anxiety with the patients who just began to
master walking again.
The medicinal suit itself can be used not only in a hospital
department, but also for out-patient treatment, and its modular
construction enables not only doctors but also the patient’s relatives
to 'pack' a patient into a suit within several minutes. Certainly, the
medicinal suit is not a magic means for fighting against the
consequences of strokes and craniocerebral traumas.
The researchers and physicians point out that the patient
rehabilitation with the help of the Regent suit is efficient only
combined with traditional massage and physiotherapy exercises.