Most space developments are successfully applied on planet Earth. They cure those diseases that the earthly medicine fails to heal.
What do an astronaut who spent half a year on the orbit and a patient who suffered a stroke or a brain injury have in common? Neither of them feels his body, can walk unaided or speak without difficulties. An astronaut has these problems because his muscles atrophied in weightlessness, and a patient – because haemorrhage damaged the brain areas involved in speech and motion.
“The abnormalities caused by a stroke or a traumatic brain injury are like those caused by microgravity,” said Inessa Kozlovskaya, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Director of the State Scientific Center-Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP). “If astronauts’ motor and speech skills are restored successfully after rehabilitation, then we can use the same methods to put our patients back on their feet.”
Formerly astronauts had to use fitness equipment for at least two hours in order to escape problems after returning to Earth. Afterwards, scientists came up with a new method that made in-service training available. They created a special space suit which provided mechanical pressure by means of elastic garments.
“The suit works like expanders. In order to draw themselves up or bend over, an astronaut has to overcome traction of shock absorbers that reproduce efforts of our postural muscles,” Deputy Director General of the IBMP Irina Saenko said.
The suit has been used in space for 20 years. The time for rehabilitation after returning to Earth was reduced greatly thanks to this suit. They started using it in earthly medicine in 1992. Within 15 years the remedial suit helped thousands of patients with infantile cerebral paralysis (ICP) who were bed-ridden after strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
“Such patients cannot move, for cerebral affection breaks the flux of information from receptors to the central nervous system,” said Irina Saenko. “The suit provides a load for the muscle system. They start working, and flux of information to the central nervous system enables it to control.”
But thousands of patients during 15 years are just a drop in the ocean. It is advisable to use the method on a large scale. Today the suit was finally clinically tested in Russia’s leading clinics.
“We can put a patient with a moderate-severe stroke back on his feet within a week,” said Sergei Shvarkov, the director of the Neurology and Rehabilitation Medical Center of the Federal Biomedical Agency of the Russian Ministry of Health. “The suit also assists hopeless patients. After a course of treatment 82 percent patients with a stroke showed some improvement.”
Not only physical activity, but also speech can be restored with patients after injuries and strokes.
“As a rule, the motor center is in the active cerebrum, and so is the brain region involved in speech,” said Victor Shklovsky, the director of the Center of Speech Pathology and Rehabilitation. “That is why speech functions are restored more quickly with active physical exercises.”
The suit also displayed promising results in treating for motor abnormalities during ICP.
“Igor took a course of treatment with us. He is a 15-year-old teenager with ICP. He is confined to a wheelchair. A week after he began to use the suit, he was able to walk unaided,” Professor Shvarkov claimed. “The new method was acknowledged not in Russia alone, but abroad as well.”
One of the advantages with the suit is that it turns a passive observer into an active participant of his own treatment. Patients feel more confident about their abilities and more likely to convalesce. Another benefit is accessibility. Unlike expensive imported rehabilitation stands, this suit is available even for regional hospitals.
Translated by Julia Bulygina