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New Therapy Program Promotes Patient Independence

ATLANTA (Dec. 11, 2009) – A new therapy program is helping some Shepherd Center spinal cord injury patients with their functional goals.

The program, called Shepherd Step, uses a manual treadmill to help participants (nicknamed the Shepherd Steppers) practice walking. It provides patients with a highly intensive – and regularly scheduled – regimen.

“Before we developed the program, patients would be signed up for time slots to use the treadmill as they became available,” says Shepherd Center physical therapist Anneke Bender. “But their sessions would be on an inconsistent basis. This program gives them regular, consistent time on the treadmill to meet their goal.”

Sessions last 90 minutes for two to five times per week.  A patient works an hour on the treadmill while suspended from a harness, adjusted to varying levels of body weight. Up to three people guide and facilitate the patient through the normal walking pattern as needed. The last half hour is spent off the treadmill working on other activities to translate gains made on the treadmill to the over-ground environment. These activities can include walking, balance activities, stretching, strengthening and bracing.

“The central nervous system gets sensory information from the experience of walking,” Bender explains. “This is another way they can maximize their independence.”

Ideal candidates for the Shepherd Step Program are patients who have incomplete spinal cord injuries and some lower-extremity movement. The program is designed to fill the gap for those who aren’t able to participate in the NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), which involves locomotor training on a treadmill.

“NRN is a clinical research program that has very defined admission and discharge criteria,” Bender says. “So, some people don’t qualify. Also, the minimum number of sessions for NRN is 60, which is about a three and a half-month commitment, and that is longer than many patients are able to make.”

Shepherd Step, which started earlier this fall, is still in its early stages of development, and a maximum of three Shepherd Steppers can participate at any given time. Once they begin participating, patients may remain in the program until they maximize their potential.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.