Sci-Fi Music Therapy: Ekso Bionics

It happens to all of us: you're reading something unrelated to work, yet your mind wanders and tries to relate that topic to your job. It happens to me quite a bit. Thankfully, I have an outlet for all this day dreaming: YOU, our wonderful blog readers!

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've read several articles in magazines and websites regarding some high-tech medical technology that really grabbed my interest. These articles featured robotic equipment for healthcare and surgeries that look straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. Of course, while reading these articles, my therapist mind went straight to work and asked the question: "How could this be used in music therapy?"

Over the next three blog posts, I'll be detailing these technologies and how music therapy could play a role in its' use. Today, we're going to talk about Ekso Bionics.

What does Ekso Bionics do?

Ekso Bionics creates robotic suits that allow people with lower body injuries to walk. Check out the video from their site:


Super cool right? I'm not sure there's a cooler thing out there than seeing cutting edge technology being used to make people's lives better, especially their health and quality of life.

As you can imagine, using the Ekso suit is not as simple as strapping it on and going for a jog. It takes practice and work to be able to use the suit. Ekso employs physical therapists who consult with clients and rehab centers around the country, helping train users to walk in the suit.

So the most obvious question that comes to mind is: Could music therapists work with someone using this technology? And what strategies and interventions might be used to do so?

I've put together a few ideas that center mostly on Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) techniques.

1. Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS)

This NMT technique uses external rhythmic cues (such as music with a heavy beat or a metronome) to facilitate the rehabiltation of movements that are intrinsically rhythmic, most notably gait.

How it works: Gait is assessed, including stride length and cadence. A rhythmic cue (metronome or music) is introduced, matching the natural tempo of the patient's gait. Upon successful completion of this, the tempo is increased by 5-10%. After practicing at the higher tempo, patient's can practice walking with the rhythmic cue over obstacles, up and down stairs, starting and stopping, etc. The rhythmic cue is then gradually faded, with the patient encouraged to visualize the auditory cues in their head.

How it can help: As you can probably imagine, using the Ekso suit is not as simple as strapping it on and walking to the store. It takes specialized training and practice. RAS has been shown to improve gait in individuals with various neurologic diseases and disorders, such as stroke. It'd be quite interesting to see if this technique could improve gait in individuals learning to use this technology.

2. Therapeutic Instrumental Music Performance (TIMP)

In this technique, instruments are strategically placed and used to mimic functional movements when played in order to practice these movements in an enjoyable and motivating way.

How it works: Let's check out a video example:


As you can see in this example, this patient is working on accurate foot placement to help facilitate gait training. The key with TIMP is that the movement used to play the instrument MUST be functional in nature. It can't simply be playing just to play.

How it can help: TIMP gives patients an opportunity to repeatedly practice movements with a rhythmic cue while avoiding the tediousness that can accompany repetitive work.


As the technology Ekso develops becomes more widespread, I think it's inevitable that a patient at a hospital that employs a music therapist will be learning to use one. I think this presents a unique opportunity for two innovative healthcare mediums to collaborate and improve outcomes for patients. It's clear that there is a future for this technology, and it's an exciting prospect to think about how music therapy might play into the spread of such high tech medical equipment.

What do you think? Any other ideas on how a music therapist might work with someone using an Ekso device? Any music therapists encounter some "Sci-Fi" technology that you were able to work with? Leave a comment!

The George Center offers music therapy services, including the Neurologic Music Therapy services described above to hospitals in the Atlanta area. Let's talk about setting up a program at your facility!


Image credit: UC Davis College of Engineering Flickr account