For 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury (SCI), simple tasks can often prove a challenge. More people than first thought are paralysed by an SCI, according to research by three leading charities. If you or a loved one experience this, it is essential you get the support you need. And new spinal cord injury technology can help with this.
One example of this new technology for spinal cord injury patients is an ‘exoskeleton’.
What is an exoskeleton?
In simple terms, an exoskeleton is the name of an electro-mechanical – or robotic – device. It’s worn like a suit and can help increase a person’s strength and endurance. It is sometimes known as a step rehabilitation robot. Advances in spinal technology and design means that they are more user-friendly and lightweight than ever before.
What does a human exoskeleton do?
If you suffer lower limb weakness (or even paralysis), it can help you to stand up, walk and climb stairs with the aid of crutches or a walker.
With a lower-limb exoskeleton, for example, there will be battery-powered motors in the hip and knee joints. Using computer software these motors are able to drive movement in your legs – providing the user with support to stand and walk.
What are the benefits of an exoskeleton?
For people living with the impact of an SCI, there can be many benefits of using an exoskeleton. It can:
- Reduce stiffness and spasms
- Allow therapeutic walking
- Make exercise and stretching possible in an upright position
- Help provide pain relief
- Improve bowel and bladder function
In addition to these physical benefits, using an exoskeleton after an SCI can also have emotional benefits. Research from the USA shows a ‘psychosocial benefit’ when someone can stand upright and look at people “eye-to-eye”. And that can be so important to the wellbeing of the individual.
The limitations of current spinal cord injury technology
Exoskeletons are seen as an important development. But this new technology for spinal cord injury sufferers is still at an early stage. And the existing generation do have some limitations. This mainly relates to their cost, size, weight, speed and efficiency.
As a result, it may reduce how useful they are if you are living with any form of neurological impairment. And that can come as a disappointment to those who are most likely to benefit from using one.
One other disadvantage of an exoskeleton can be the physical requirements. Not all SCI patients can wear one. A person can often need to be a certain height or weight and ideally retain some function in their limbs. You’ll also likely need to have the upper body strength to use the walker or crutches.
How much does an exoskeleton cost?
Although the price of technology does reduce over time, these devices are expensive and unlikely to be affordable for the foreseeable future if relying purely on NHS funding. The cost of an exoskeleton can vary depending on the supplier. One US supplier has created an option that costs $40,000 (around £30,000). It’s not exactly within the budget of most people. But it is a step change from other robotic suits, which can cost upwards of £62,500.
And this cost only applies to the exoskeleton itself. It won’t necessarily cover things like training, a warranty, maintenance, insurance or replacement batteries. Right now, the expected life span of an exoskeleton is between 4-5 years – so there may be future costs involved too.
What does the future hold for exoskeleton technology?
In the past decade, there have been significant developments in spinal cord injury technology. It is the result of advances in robotics and mechatronics among others. But there is still a long way to go before it becomes a fully accessible rehabilitation option for SCI sufferers.
With each new advance, it’s hoped that exoskeletons will become lighter, cheaper and easier to wear. Some of the future developments are expected to:
- Reduce the weight of the exoskeleton
- Increase the life span of the suit
- Extend the battery life
- Lower the purchase and maintenance costs
How can Shoosmiths help?
Life with an SCI can be a challenge. It can stop you doing the things you enjoy. And the impact isn’t just physical. Not being able to walk or stand up can take an emotional toll on you and the people closest to you. Thankfully, new spinal cord injury technology – like exoskeletons – could be the solution that gives SCI sufferers more independence and freedom.
It might still be some way off for most SCI sufferers. But there’s still plenty of help and support out there. And Shoosmiths is here to make sure you get it. If your injury is the result of an accident that wasn’t your fault, you could be able to make a spinal cord injury claim. Our expert solicitors have the extensive skills and knowledge to secure the compensation you need.
Not only that, but our close links with leading SCI support groups and organisations can get you the proper care and treatment. And, if you do decide to make a claim with us and it’s a success, the compensation you may receive can be used for this. It can even help you get an exoskeleton if that is the right option for you. The important thing to know is that you aren’t alone.
For more details about how we can help, talk to a member of our team for free. Call us today or send us a message.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023