New technology offers hope for workplace spinal injuries

Chances are that many California readers might still associate a spinal injury with partial, if not complete paralysis. Although a spinal injury might be extremely unlikely in an office environment, there are workplaces where such an injury might be a possibility. Unsafe construction sites, falls from malfunctioning or unsecured scaffolding, and factories are examples of sites where a workplace injury might result in damage to the spinal cord.

If a spinal injury were to happen in the workplace, even the recovery of medical expenses and lost wages through a workers' compensation claim might provide small comfort to injured workers. However, a recent technological invention may change the outcome of paralyzed individuals.

Called a powered exoskeleton or a wearable robot, the device consists of pieces that snap together around a user's legs, like braces. The pieces, which have a combined weight of 27 pounds, are small enough to fit inside a backpack. The battery-powered electronic device, once assembled, anticipates movement based on which direction the user is tiling. For example, leaning forward results in the device initiating a first step. Leaning backward brings the device to a halt.

The technology has not yet been approved by federal regulators, nor are the current test models fast enough for outdoor pedestrian use. Nevertheless, users say the vantage point of being able to stand and move again in an assisted manner is well worth the price of any current inconveniences. In addition, there may be a health benefit to getting out of a wheelchair, where excess sitting might lead to pressure sores.

Source: newsobserver.com, "'Wearable robots' give improved mobility to people who are paralyzed," Carla K. Johnson, May 13, 2013

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