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9/16/22blog post

what does a Gait Lab engineer do?

Dayton Children's is one of the few hospitals in the world that offers patients a gait and motion analysis laboratory. The Gait Lab’s state-of-the-art computer technology can identify problems that are not always detectable in a typical clinical exam and offer children more specific treatment options for movement issues with better results. 

To do this work, it takes a multidisciplinary team that includes an orthopedic surgeon, physical therapists, and a biomedical engineer. That’s right, an engineer!  

We sat down with Tessa Hill, Gait Lab engineer, to talk more about the Gait Lab and her role on the team. 

what is the Gait Lab? 
The Gait Lab uses high-tech cameras and sensors to analyze how people move. Children are often referred to the Gait Lab if they have orthopedic/musculoskeletal conditions that impact their gait and functional mobility. Information from the lab can help with surgical planning, brace/spasticity management, and other recommended treatments.  

The Gait Lab sees children with a variety of diagnoses such as:  

  • Cerebral palsy 
  • Spina bifida 
  • Muscular dystrophies 
  • Spasticity 
  • Femoral/tibial torsion 
  • Leg length discrepancy 

what is the role of a Gait Lab engineer? 
The Gait Lab engineer oversees preparing the patients and the equipment for data collections. Before the collection, I turn on and calibrate the equipment in the lab. I place small reflective markers on the patients so the cameras can track their movement. This is sometimes challenging with our wiggly little patients! After I collect the data, I process it into a comprehensive report that I present to our multidisciplinary team. This data helps the team decide the best treatment options for the patient.  

what kind of training did you have to become a Gait Lab engineer? 
I received my training at the University of Dayton (UD) where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical/ biomechanical engineering. I have conducted research at UD in various topics like bracing in multiple sclerosis, virtual reality’s effect on balance, and therapies in spinal cord injuries. I am currently working towards a master’s degree at UD and continue to learn more every day!  

what types of technology and/or equipment is utilized in the Gait Lab? The Gait Lab uses high- tech cameras to track how people move. These are the same cameras that are used to create animated movies! There are force plates in the ground that the patient walks over to show the forces in the child’s joints. EMG sensors are placed on the skin to see how the muscles are activating underneath. There is also a pressure-sensitive walkway that can show how weight is being distributed on the foot with walking. All of this equipment gives us information to help illustrate the child’s gait and function.  

what is your favorite part about working in the Gait Lab? 
I really love working with the children we help. It’s amazing to see the world through the eyes of a child. Our patients say the funniest things in the lab that crack me up! To know that I play a small part in helping these children receive better care, is incredibly rewarding to me.  

The Gait Lab is currently “under review” for the national accreditation through the Commission for Motion Laboratory Accreditation (CMLA). Only 14 other labs in the world have received this prestigious recognition.