Effects of a powered ankle-foot orthosis on perturbed standing balance

Amber R. Emmens* (Corresponding Author), Edwin H.F. Van Asseldonk, Herman Van Der Kooij

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    38 Citations (Scopus)
    116 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: Lower extremity exoskeletons are mainly used to provide stepping support, while balancing is left to the user. Designing balance controllers is one of the biggest challenges in the development of exoskeletons. The goal of this study was to design and evaluate a balance controller for a powered ankle-foot orthosis and assess its effect on the standing balance of healthy subjects. Methods: We designed and implemented a balance controller based on the subject's body sway. This controller was compared to a simple virtual-ankle stiffness and a zero impedance controller. Ten healthy subjects wearing a powered ankle-foot orthosis had to maintain standing balance without stepping while receiving anteroposterior pushes. Center of mass kinematics, ankle torques and muscle activity of the lower legs were analyzed to assess the balance performance of the user and exoskeleton. Results: The different controllers did not significantly affect the center of mass responses. However, the body sway based controller resulted in a decrease of 29% in the biological ankle torque compared to the zero impedance controller and a decrease of 32% compared to the virtual-ankle stiffness. Furthermore, the soleus muscle activity of the left and right leg decreased on average with 8%, while the tibialis anterior muscle activity increased with 47% compared to zero impedance. Conclusion: The body sway based controller generated human-like torque profiles, whereas the virtual-ankle stiffness did not. As a result, the powered ankle-foot orthosis with the body sway based controller was effective in assisting the healthy subjects in maintaining balance, although the improvements were not seen in the body sway response, but in the subjects' decreased biological ankle torques to counteract the perturbations. This decrease was a combined effect of decreased soleus muscle activity and increased tibialis anterior muscle activity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number50
    JournalJournal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2018


    • Ankle-foot orthosis
    • Balance control
    • Exoskeleton
    • Standing balance


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