Powered exoskeletons (EXOs) have emerged as potential devices for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) to support the intervention of physical therapists during therapy (rehabilitation EXOs) as well as to assist lower limb motion during the daily life (assistive EXOs). Although the ankle is considered a key joint for gait restoration after SCI, very few ankle exoskeletons were developed and tested in incomplete SCI (iSCI) population. Among those, the Achilles ankle exoskeleton is the only one embedding a Controller inspired by the neuromuscular system (NeuroMuscular Controller, NMC). In a previous study we demonstrated that a period dedicated to train iSCI subjects in using the Achilles EXO as an assistive aid, improved robot-aided walking speed and surprisingly also generated a positive trend in free walking speed on long and short distances thus suggesting a possible unexpected rehabilitation effect. To further investigate this result, a case-control longitudinal study was conducted in the present work. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that Achilles-aided training could improve performance of free walking of chronic iSCI people more than conventional intensity-matched gait rehabilitation. Before and after conventional and robot-aided rehabilitation a number of variables were analyzed, including spatiotemporal parameters, joint kinematics, ground reaction forces, muscle force, spasticity and its related symptoms, balance and personal experience about the training. Results showed that only the NMC-controlled Achilles training allowed participants to significantly walk faster, with a longer step length and a reduced gait cycle time. A slight force and spasticity improvements were also experienced. In terms of subjects' personal experience, Achilles training was perceived more interesting and less physically demanding than conventional rehabilitation.
|Journal||Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents|
|Issue number||5 Suppl. 3|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Sept 2020|
- ankle exoskeleton
- neuromuscular controller
- robot-aided gait rehabilitation
- spinal cord injury