In the U.S. alone, 7.5 million individuals have survived stroke, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury, and over a million new patients are diagnosed every year [1]. Most of these patients will need gait rehabilitation. Body weight supported gait training is a widely used rehabilitation therapy to improve gait function [2]. Commonly, a physical therapist provides assistance using a gait belt to support the patient. Sometimes two or three therapists may be needed for severely impaired patients. Bodyweight supported treadmill training uses a harness attached to an overhead lift to support body weight [2], however harness systems often cause discomfort and may take significant time to set up and take down.

Lite Run Corporation has developed a system for the treatment of patients with gait and balance difficulties that uses differential air pressure inside a specially designed suit to reduce up to 50 percent of a patient’s body weight. The suit facilitates patient ambulation using technology like that in astronaut spacesuits to achieve comfort and flexibility. Potential benefits include longer therapy sessions due to greater comfort and greater unweighting, as well as the therapeutic benefits of being upright and walking for subjects unable to stand independently.

The suit is used in conjunction with the Gait Trainer device shown in Figure 1 which provides air pressure to the suit and support for the patient. Gait Trainer features include: 1) electro-mechanical and pneumatic controls to support the suit and patient when rising from sitting to standing and ambulating during therapy — so that a single therapist can safely transfer a patient from a wheelchair and practice gait therapy; 2) an open design that permits access to patient’s body and legs by the therapist; 3) a compact profile that provides easy maneuverability; 4) a “base spread” function that permits positioning close to a patient when seated in wheel chair, bed or therapy table. Together these features provide safety and stability for the patient and reduced physical burden on the therapist.

The objectives for the current study were to establish the safety and feasibility of the Gait Trainer, validate user design requirements, and to test the hypothesis that the rate of perceived exertion when using the device is significantly less than during unaided walking therapy.

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