St. Mary’s Director of Rehabilitation Services, Tiffany Damers and physical therapist, Kelly Dougherty, recently spoke with Al Levine, the host of Plugged into Long Island, which can be heard on 102.3 WBAB and 106.1 WBLI, about locomotor training, an intensive training program for patients with spinal cord injuries.
Treatment of spinal cord injuries previously focused on compensating with the use of braces but at St. Mary’s, the focus of treatment has shifted into harnessing science so that the spinal cord is used in a different way. Locomotor training is a non-traditional method of recovery and is changing the minds of healthcare regarding the outlook for the treatment of paralysis.
Locomotor training exists in only three places in the United States and St. Mary’s is fortunate to offer this training. It began at St. Mary’s in 2018 to treat a patient who had previously had to go out of state to get treatment. What makes locomotor training different than most typical physical therapy programs is that instead of one clinician per session once or twice a week for 30-60 minutes, there are four clinicians per session and five 90 minute sessions per week. The patient is always the center of attention and the goal at each session is to increase their capacity as well as their trunk and head control.
A typical locomotor training session begins with the patient walking on the treadmill, with the clinician’s assistance, for a solid 60 minutes. hands. The next 30 minutes are spent with the clinicians in an overground activity; such as standing.
Right now there are six to seven patients undergoing locomotor training at St. Mary’s. They have seen teens come through the program, especially one teen who, with traditional therapy, was wheelchair-bound but is now able to walk down the hallway, with a walker, and stand on his own at home.
Locomotor training has been used on patients with spinal cord injuries, paralysis, and Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM). It has also been used to treat patients with scoliosis. St. Mary’s has seen patients who have recovered their bladder and bowel function as a result.
St. Mary’s does not want to turn anyone away and is looking to increase capacity and add more patients to the locomotor training program. Due to the intensive therapy sessions, their frequency, length, and labor involved, not all insurance carriers cover the cost of the therapy but St. Mary’s is partnering with families to obtain scholarship money and grant funding to cover the cost.
As Mrs. Damers and Ms. Dougherty said, the spinal cord is smart. It does not need the brain to walk. What locomotor training does is speak to the spinal cord retraining it to function. St. Mary’s works with patients as young as 14 months and up to young adults.
To listen to the interview on WBAB with Al Levine, the host of Plugged into Long Island, please click here.