Improving Balance and Mobility After Cancer Treatment

Physical Therapist
Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 4:59pm

After some cancer treatments, especially bone marrow transplants, patients may experience balance deficits or a decreased ability to walk. Rehabilitation is a great way to work through these hurdles and improve functionality. 

SafeGait® is a piece of rehabilitation equipment we recently began using here at Roswell Park. This harness system is connected to a unit on the ceiling that follows a track. It provides a safer environment for patients by catching their body weight should they begin to wobble or fall. The system has different velocity sensitivity settings that allow us to customize a rehabilitation plan. For example, we may set it at a low sensitivity for more independent patients who just need a little extra guidance as they try to improve their balance. It gives them the ability to take a few steps and catch themselves before the harness catches them. With a higher sensitivity setting, the harness will automatically catch you if you start to wobble or your knees start to buckle. We can also use the harness to help with sitting, climbing stairs and other daily life tasks. We’ve seen it help patients overcome anxiety and nervousness about moving more, or in different ways, than they have in a while.

One of our first patients to use SafeGait® has a remarkable story. Alex had some complications from his bone marrow transplant that landed him in the Intensive Care Unit. Once he began to recover, he had to re-learn to walk. 

“On October 3, I walked for the first time since July. I have non-Hodgkin lymphoma – I’ve been fighting multiple occurrences since 1992,” explains Alex. “Over the summer, I was doing well until my graft-versus-host disease flared up. I have been in the hospital ever since.”

Taking his first steps after three months was an incredibly emotional moment for Alex. “It was like ringing the Victory Bell. It meant so much. The harness helped support me and then I was able to trust it and start walking.”

Additional features of SafeGait® include a path on the floor where patients can visually ensure they are staying on the track. While the tightness of the harness does take a little getting used to, this system is a safer way for us to give patients the confidence boost they need to push their strength and endurance and accelerate their road to recovery.