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Inflatable 'space pants' help injured patients walk again

The Lite Run machine plugs into specially-designed pants to help reduce a patient's body weight by up to 50%.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — After a private donor gifted them with funds in January, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was able to purchase five pairs of pants that are helping patients learn to walk again. The specialized pants plug into a walker which fills them with air. By utilizing the same technology as NASA space suits, differential air pressure reduces a patient's body weight by up to 50%. The company behind the design, Lite Run, is based out of Saint Paul.

Physical therapists at Courage Kenny say this technology replaces cumbersome devices that suspend patients from their underarm region, rather than supporting them from the ground up.

Leena Rapacz, a physical therapist, said she was skeptical about the idea at first.

"Of course I just thought it was kind of crazy… like, inflatable pants? Really? How are they gonna help somebody?" Rapacz said. "But every patient that I’ve tried it with loves it because it allows for a lot more normal movement."

Physical therapist Dan Frush got to try it out when they first tested the equipment.

"It’s a little bizarre. We definitely had to work out some kinks," Frush said. "Like if you take too much air off, you feel like you’re floating on the moon, so you kind of have to figure that out."

But now, Frush says their team has gotten it down to a science.

"Overwhelmingly it’s been positive for the patients... because it’s more comfortable than other things we’ve used," he said. "It tells you exactly on the screen how many feet you’ve walked, how fast, you walked, so it gives the clients good feedback."

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Frush says it increases a patient's endurance and helps them get in more repetition for gait training.

"I think the biggest thing that we’ve noticed is that people who are maybe walking 100 feet in an entire therapy session—they put on the pants and they’re walking a thousand feet," he said.

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