Kentucky Children With Cerebral Palsy: One Foot May Help the Other

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Cerebral palsy (CP) tends to affect one side of the body more than the other. With one strong and one weak foot and leg, children may have difficulty walking because of their condition.

Now, as described in The Puyallup Herald, a device that sends electrical signals from the foot and leg on the strong side to the foot and leg on the weak side may provide the best chance for both stroke victims and children with CP in Kentucky to walk normally.

First Steps

Dr. David G. Embrey, research program coordinator at MultiCare Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit, was personally motivated to enter the field of physical therapy. His brother Paul had been institutionalized with CP from age 4 until he died at age 58. Paul had never been able to speak, walk, or feed himself.

Embrey began using a technology called Surface Electromyography (SEMG), in which sensors are placed on the skin to record electrical signals from the brain that cause muscles to move.

“The first time I went inside the body of a child with SEMG, I was absolutely astonished,” Dr. Embrey said. “The body was not functioning at all like my eyes were telling me.  I’ve now been able to take the technology and change what I do in treatment to become more effective.”

When Dr. Embrey was using SEMG to compare the muscle movements of a child with CP to the muscle movements of his healthy brother, inspiration hit.

An Idea Is Born

Prompted by his work with SEMG, Embrey and Sam Augsburger, Director of the Motional Analysis Laboratory at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Lexington, Kentucky, developed the Gait MyoElectric Stimulator (GMES). The device was intended for use with stroke patients by using electrical signals from the strong foot and leg to stimulate muscles in the weak foot and leg.

“SEMG data revealed the perfect timing pattern to stimulate the muscles with the GMES in the lower leg during walking,” said Dr. Embrey. “Our electrical stimulation system provides contraction in the shin muscles to lift the foot when it is in the air and stimulates the muscles to propel the body forward during the stance phase. SEMG has also helped refine the timing mechanism and validate the muscles are contracting at precisely the correct time during the walking cycle.”

Dr. Embrey and his colleagues have improved on their original prototype and come up with the GMES II, which they say will stimulate any muscle in the leg, arm, or body at precisely the right time to produce normal walking.

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