Working Smarter – The Evolution of Physical Therapy Technology

Physical Therapy

It’s amazing how far modern physical therapy has come since the early days. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the first professional organization for PTs was formed in 1921 (the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, as it were). The practice itself was, of course, formed much earlier, though perhaps not under such official nomenclature.

In the past, physical therapy relied heavily on manual equipment and traditional methods. That, and the expertise of the therapist. And though the fundamental purpose of PT remains the same—to help people heal, rehabilitate, and strengthen their bodies—the practice has evolved significantly.

The New Era of Physical Therapy Technology and Intelligence

It starts with methods and tools. Whereas PTs once relied only on their eyes, hands, and traditional implements, they can now pair that expertise with a variety of digital and robotic technology. Assessing a patient’s gait, for example, once required a simple visual test. Now, PTs use advanced gait analysis and video monitoring to make a more precise assessment for stroke rehabilitation, injury recovery, and neurological disorders.

Similarly, the use of crutches and other implements has been supplemented by robotics and other advanced prosthetics. The outlook and timeline for things like anterior cruciate ligament tears and sprained ankles is far more focused. On top of that, patients and PTs can even use smartphone apps to set baselines, create goals, measure progress, and even design workout plans.

Anti-Gravity Technology

One of the most recent advancements has been the use of precision unweighting technology, sometimes referred to as body weight support. Our own AlterG VIA Anti-Gravity Treadmill is perhaps the best and most advanced example of body weight support technology.

Based on NASA Differential Air Pressure technology, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill allows PTs to reduce body weight impact in precise increments. This helps limit the risk of reinjury, enables pain-free rehab, and optimizes recovery times.  

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Another major development in PT has been robotics. Although there are a number of examples, bionic limbs have emerged as one of the most useful and effective. Bionics are wearable devices that offer advanced assistance during activities like walking, sitting down, and standing up. The AlterG Bionic Leg™is a great example, often used for gait training during stroke rehabilitation. To learn more, see our bionic leg research and case studies.

What Does This Mean for Patient Care?

As new technologies like unweighting, video monitoring and robotics gain headway, more effective and efficient PT will be more widely available. This, of course, is great news for patients and their families.

Physical therapists, too.

With new technology, patients are able to get back to their lives faster, and with more confidence, while physical therapists are better equipped to deliver more precise results.

Though the fundamentals of physical therapy remain tested and true, the evolution of physical therapy has meant more precise and safer rehabilitation.