People paralyzed with spinal cord injuries can safely and effectively use an exoskeleton to assist them in walking, a new study finds.
"Participants showed improvement regardless of level of injury, completeness or duration of injury," said Gail Forrest, director of the Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation at Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, N.J.
The findings suggest "that exoskeletons can be used to improve mobility across a broad spectrum of individuals with neurological deficits caused by spinal cord injury," she said in a foundation news release.
The randomized clinical trial included 50 participants with paralysis either in the lower body or in both the upper and lower body. This included people with no motor function as well as those who'd still retained some movement ability.
Two groups did either exo-assisted walking or usual activity for 12 weeks, then switched. Their performance was measured over 12, 24 and 36 sessions using three tests: a timed 10-meter walk; a six-minute walk; and a timed test in which patients get up from a seated position, walk a set distance, turn around, walk back and sit down.
The researchers used two powered exoskeletons in the study: the Ekso GT (Ekso Bionics), and ReWalk (ReWalk Robotics). The findings were published earlier this year in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI.
The aim was to establish guidelines for clinical exoskeletal-assisted walking programs for patients with spinal cord injury. The researchers also hoped to determine how many training sessions were needed to equip individuals with assisted walking skills and then to reach speed goals.
The majority of participants mastered the ability to move with the assistance of the exoskeleton, Forrest said.
After 12 sessions, 62%, 70% and 72% of participants achieved the milestones for the three walking tests, respectively. After 36 sessions, 80%, 82% and 84% did so, the findings showed.
According to Forrest, the results can be used to "guide the application of exoskeletons to spinal cord injury rehabilitation."
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers offers additional information on the use of robotics in medicine.
SOURCE: Kessler Foundation, news release, Nov. 12, 2020