Since I first tried walking by electronically stimulating dorsi-flexion and a little knee and hip flexion (see Bionic Woman)in my mostly paralysed left leg, I’ve made amazing progress. Particularly given that I have a spinal cord injury at T7/T8 and I was told I’d never walk …
I had been using a dictus to lift my drooping left foot off the ground (drop foot) – a dictus consists of a cuff around your ankle with a thick rubber band looped around hooks on the bottom eyelets of your shoe:
To walk I went up on the toes of my right foot, leaned over to the right and swung my left leg around. My spine was twisting and everything was out of alignment.
Now, using the Odstock to stimulate the muscles of my left foot, I walk with a normal gait, if a very slow normal gait. There is a switch in the heel of my right foot so that when that heel hits the ground, an electrical impulse travels up a wire to the small pocket sized computer on my belt, then down another wire to one electrode placed on my skin over a nerve that travels from the knee to the ankle, and a second electrode placed behind my knee. A micro second later my ankle, knee and hip bend and I am propelled forward. MAGIC!
The image below provides an idea of how it works, except that it shows a male walking without sticks, with the heel switch on the same leg that’s being stimulated, and the second electrode on the calf rather than behind the knee. I’m a female, I walk with two elbow crutches, the switch is on my other heel, and I place the second electrode behind my knee (although I can place it on the calf but the response isn’t as good). But you get the idea.
Even better is the U tube clip that shows <a href="http://
But here’s the catch. It’s not a sudden cure for spinal cord injury or stroke or multiple sclerosis. It’s a walking aid. And to get to this point of walking tall and straight I spend lots of time stretching and exercising the muscles that abused to be able to walk. I exercise weak muscles that I need to recruit to work with the Odstock. I spend hours repeating small movements that I need for endurance. I work hard to reconnect and reprogramme nerves that have learned a pattern that has to unlearned, corrected and relearned.
It’s intense. Determination, persistence, commitment is my mantra to which I’ve added creativity. Creative thinking. I discipline myself to follow precisely the instructions given to me by a clever personal trainer who thinks laterally and is always coming up with ways of tricking my brain so I can learn new, better patterns of movement.
Last week I walked two kilometres around a walking/running circuit at a local park. The expansiveness and wide open space encouraged me to stand tall. It took me 80 minutes, and apart from a few lapses of concentration I think my gait was fabulous.
Is it good enough? When will it be good enough? I’ve no idea, but this is good for the moment.