he brain can sometimes make new connections and the body can relearn many functions lost after a stroke, but it can take months of therapy. A company, called Bioness, Inc.™ has developed two devices to aid in the stroke rehabilitation. One device (the NESS H200) works on the hand. The second (the NESS L300) is worn on the lower leg and foot.
The Bioness products use a technique called functional electrical stimulation. Electrodes are placed over a target muscle group. A computerized control unit sends a mild electrical current through the electrodes to the target muscles. The signal stimulates the muscle to contract, or tighten. Hopefully, over time, the therapy “re-educates” the brain to appropriately fire the right nerves to make the muscle work in a normal fashion. The hand device helps patients learn to open and close their fingers. It also increases strength in the hand, decreases stiffness and improves strength and the circulation of blood. The foot device aims to improve leg strength and walking ability and speed.
Each device must be custom-placed and programmed. A therapist places the electrodes over the appropriate location. The control unit must be programmed for timing, duration and intensity of the electrical signal. Donna Andrews, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, says a NESS device can be used soon after a stroke to start therapy before the patient leaves the hospital. Most patients will continue to use the therapy during outpatient rehabilitation. She says the NESS may even be helpful to improve function in patients who had a stroke several years ago.
The Bioness products could be used for other patients with motor problems caused by other neurological problems, like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. The device is not recommended for patients with fractures, open wounds or pacemakers.