Physical therapy patients at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital have access to a unique unweighting system that enables them to exercise without putting pressure on injured and recovering joints.
The PneuWeight unloading system is an innovative pneumatic tool that lifts and supports a patient’s body weight to reduce or eliminate pain. Without the pain associated with weight-bearing, patients can walk, run and do other exercises earlier in the rehabilitation process — dramatically shortening their recovery times.
Although PneuWeight system was developed more than 25 years ago for a professional basketball team, they remain a rare sight in many physical therapy clinics. At Houston Methodist Sugar Land, however, the system is in constant use.
“The PneuWeight is an invaluable asset for us here, and it makes a big difference in the treatment of many of our patients,” said Dan Kershner, a Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital physical therapist. “PneuWeight enables us to unload a patient’s body weight using a comfortable harness. We can adjust how much weight is unloaded, and add more weight as the patient progresses. We usually unload for treadmill work, but we have the option to remove the treadmill to work on other types of weight bearing exercises.”
One recent patient, recovering from multiple injuries after being hit by a car, was mostly wheelchair-bound when he first arrived for physical therapy. Standing was difficult, and he could only walk a few steps at a time, with a significant limp. “He couldn’t put any weight at all on his left leg,” recalled Kershner.
Using PneuWeight, however, the patient was able to begin walking on the treadmill; at first, only 100 steps or so before he would tire. But he quickly rebuilt his strength and stamina and began walking for five minutes, then 10, then longer. As his pain lessened, the physical therapy staff decreased the system’s lift and increased the amount of weight the patient was bearing on his own.
Today, he no longer needs a wheelchair or even a cane, and his limp has significantly improved.
“Without PneuWeight, he would not have been able to tolerate walking activity in physical therapy for many more weeks, and his recovery would have been much, much slower,” said Kershner.
The PneuWeight is also valuable in helping patients who have balance issues or patients who struggle with balance due to neurologic disorders like the effects of a stroke. “The harness provides the necessary stability and gives patients the confidence to exercise without the fear of falling,” said Kiran Patel, a Houston Methodist Sugar Land physical therapist assistant.
That confidence can play a key role in encouraging patients to keep working hard at their therapy.
“It’s not unusual for patients to get discouraged at what they perceive to be a lack of progress, even though they are improving,” said Patel. “That’s especially true if they are recovering from a traumatic injury, which typically requires a long period of rehabilitation. The PneuWeight enables us to get patients up and moving early; it helps restore confidence and motivates patients to keep working hard. It makes a world of difference.”
For more information on physical therapy services at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, go to houstonmethodist.org/therapy-sl or call 281-274-0123 to schedule an appointment.