Summit Physical Therapy - November/December 2021


Fifty years ago, folks expected 2021 to feature flying cars and food pills — but did they predict knee robots? We don’t think so! Defying expectations, the San Francisco-based company Roam Robotics debuted a brand-new smart knee brace this summer that could be a game-changer for knee osteoarthritis patients. Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that impacts millions of people every year. Major symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, and a lack of mobility. Leg braces have long been an option to help reduce that pain by taking pressure off the joint, but the Ascend Wearable Robotic Knee Orthosis isn’t just a brace. It’s a “wearable robot” that takes the benefits of a brace to the next level. Where other braces are static, this smart brace uses algorithms to predict wearer actions and adjust itself throughout the day for maximum pain relief. It also has a lightweight carbon fiber shell, rechargeable batteries, a smartphone-like display, and built-in sensors that “detect user intention in real time to extend and flex the knee and help overcome weakness through precise stabilization.” One clinical study showed the Ascend reduced the pain of knee osteoarthritis patients by 46% on average, and another found more than 65% of participants experienced improved

mobility with the brace. It’s a potential substitute for knee replacement surgery.

The downside of the Ascend is its cost. According to PCMag, the brace will go for $7,000, although 50%–100% of that cost should be covered by Medicare or private insurance. Still, it is exciting to see a high-tech device come on the market for osteoarthritis sufferers, who could use it alongside physical therapy and other treatments. The future really is here, and it’s likely more companies will follow in Roam’s footsteps. As Roam Robotics CEO Tim Swift told NPR, “I believe we have the ability to change the relationship that people

have with robots on a scale that has really never been considered. Our goal is not to build cyborgs. It’s to make people more human than they ever were before.” This summer, the FDA approved the brace, and it should be for sale this winter. To learn more, visit


Earlier this year, Alex Smith retired from the NFL after helping the Washington Football Team achieve an NFC East title last year — but that’s not what most people will remember him for. Rather, they will remember Smith for fighting through one of the worst injuries ever sustained by a player in the history of the game. For anyone who might be unfamiliar with his story, here are a few of the basics: On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith sustained a spiral and compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in his right leg after getting sacked by Kareem Jackson. He was rushed to surgery immediately, but that was just the beginning. A serious infection in Smith’s blood led to a series of medical complications and 17 more surgeries. All of this should have meant Smith was done with professional football for good. After all, he nearly lost his leg!

But thanks to his determination, and help from a qualified physical therapist, he was able to steadily recover. In February 2019, Smith was cleared by the office of the secretary of defense to receive a medical consultation from the military at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehab center normally reserved for combat veterans. However, Smith’s injuries were severe enough that they actually mirrored a lot of what the doctors at the facility were used to working with. The Washington Team’s physician, Dr. Robin West, made the visit possible after she contacted her friend Johnny Owens, a physical therapist who used to work at the Center for the Intrepid. He got Smith connected with the team of physical therapists at the facility. Then, he got to work. According to Smith’s wife, he was doing physical therapy five, sometimes six times a week. He seemed determined to recover, and in the end, it paid off. Against all odds, Smith returned to the field for his final season with the NFL, almost completely recovered from his injury. In many ways, Smith represents what can happen when someone fully dedicates themselves to their recovery — a new life, where he could do things that no one thought would be possible for him again


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