We are honored to partner with University Health System to share this sponsored post highlighting the work of pediatric physical therapists at the UHS Reeves Rehabilitation Center.
At University Health System’s Reeves Rehabilitation Center, an odd-looking suit is helping children learn to move more independently. It’s most appropriate for children with cerebral palsy or developmental delays, but it might be useful in helping people recover from brain injuries and other conditions.
The Therasuit is an interesting contraption, with several pieces that hook together in customized ways. It’s really the third in a three-part intensive therapeutic approach that includes “pulleys for strength training, the ‘spider’ for balance, and the Therasuit for putting it all together into functional activities like walking,” said Kristina Valadez, a physical therapist with University Health System’s Reeves Rehabilitation Center. “We’ve tracked how much it helps . . . and have found that our patients generally show a 20 to 30 percent improvement following a three-week session.”
The therapy takes place in a large metal grid enclosure, open on one side and hung with bungee cords, sandbag weights and wide, supportive belts of various sizes and colors. It doesn’t look like a typical workout space because it isn’t.
The grid offers the therapist and patient multiple options, so they can customize the therapy to fit each patient’s size and needs. They choose the right size of sandbag at that point in the child’s therapy, tie a pulley to it, and run it through the grid at just the right height. The child pulls the weight in the direction that develops specific muscles. “Then we put the patient through repetitions to build up strength and endurance,” Valadez said, “because that builds a base for everything else.”
Once they have that foundation of increased strength, they graduate to the “spider”—a sturdy, wide belt that goes around their waist with various loops to attach multiple bungee cords. They attach the other ends of the cords to the grid at whatever level gives the patient the support they need.
‘It’s kind of like having multiple hands holding you up,” Valadez said. If someone can’t stand or has trouble finding balance on their own, the spider gives them support and helps them develop coordination. “For instance, if someone’s standing, I’m going to have to position those bungees a lot higher than if they’re kneeling,” she said. “Ideally, we’ll spend a week working on strength for two to three hours a day, then another week with the spider at the same intensity, until the patient is ready to graduate to the Therasuit itself.”
The Therasuit is a garment in several pieces—shoes, leggings, shorts, a vest, and a headpiece—that can be connected with bands that provide tension and support. The suit sizes range from pint-sized to adult-sized. There are multiple bands, and not every patient will need every piece. For example, a child may chronically lean forward, so when the therapist puts the Therasuit on them, they attach more bands in the back.
“That creates more tension, or ‘pull,’ to support them in an upright position. This repositioning allows the child to experience a more typical posture while performing other activities,” Valadez said. “At that point mostly it’s walking, standing, and doing the regular things they do in physical therapy, with the suit to help them out.”
The therapy is pretty intense, Valadez said, so she recommends that sessions last no more than three weeks, up to four times a year. Then the children can return to their regular therapies. “Children may get overwhelmed or fatigued if it is constant, and their bodies are growing and changing all the time.” The Therasuit is one tool to help them grow in the best way possible.