Walking upright is one of the most fundamentally unique skills of human beings. This basic skill, along with the ability to reason, distinguishes Homo sapiens from other mammals. In fact, the development of the human brain was only realized through the advancement of and ability to walk with an erect posture to free the hands for the manipulation of tools. From birth, walking is considered a developmental landmark. In time, we perfect walking and advance to running and jumping. This attitude continues throughout adulthood to be the “gold standard” of health and wellness until our last breath. For example, the first question patients ask me when recovering from surgery or injury is “when can I walk?” As we age, we fight hard to maintain the ability to independently walk and be mobile. We use crutches, walkers, wheelchairs and scooters to keep mobile. Walking is essential for our physical and emotional well-being, preventing blood clots, pneumonia and depression. Now, thanks to new technology, a computerized walking assistance device may be the answer for many who are too weak to walk and climb stairs independently, yet too strong and determined not to try.
At the risk of sounding like a commercial, I think it is important to understand the history and mission of the company that developed this new technology. In 1946, Soichiro Honda established his company in Hamamatsu, Japan to produce small motorcycles and 2 years later it became Honda Motor Co. Ltd. In 1959 Honda opened its first store in Los Angeles where it continued to produce innovative motorcycles until 1973 when it produced the Honda Civic automobile in response to America’s first energy crisis. The global corporate mission has always embodied building dreams by producing products that improve human mobility, Honda recently applied technologies from their research and development to enhance the safety and mobility of people with gait dysfunction.
In April of 2009, after 10 years of research, the American Honda Co. Inc. introduced its prototype walking assist device in the US. The device is intended to provide additional support while walking for the elderly or those with weak leg muscles. The company offers two walking assist devices; the Stride Management Assist and the Bodyweight Support Device.
The Stride Management Assist is a lightweight device targeted for those with weak leg muscles but can still walk on their own. Using sensors at the hip, it gathers information and calculates the appropriate timing and stride assistance necessary for the individual to walk with less effort.
The Bodyweight Support Assist also provides support to those with weak leg muscles to improve walking. Additionally, it provides support during physically demanding daily activities such as ascending or descending stairs. The load on the leg muscles at the hips, knees and ankles is reduced while the individual maintains a semi-crouched position. While also being light-weight, it has a simple seat, frame and shoe components and allows walking at a rate of 4.5 mph.
For photos of the Honda Walk Assist, visit this link.
Honda® Walking Assist Prototype Device's Features:
Why all this effort? Research strongly supports the benefits of walking and physical activity for mental and physical health. Some of the more important benefits are:
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of Scranton, PT Dept.