Vertical ground reaction force-based analysis of powered exoskeleton-assisted walking in persons with motor-complete paraplegia

OBJECTIVE: To use vertical ground reaction force (vGRF) to show the magnitude and pattern of mechanical loading in persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) during powered exoskeleton-assisted walking.

RESEARCH DESIGN: A cross-sectional study was performed to analyze vGRF during powered exoskeleton-assisted walking (ReWalk™: Argo Medical Technologies, Inc, Marlborough, MA, USA) compared with vGRF of able-bodied gait.

SETTING: Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
PARTICIPANTS: Six persons with thoracic motor-complete SCI (T1-T11 AIS A/B) and three age-, height-, weight- and gender-matched able-bodied volunteers participated.

INTERVENTIONS: SCI participants were trained to ambulate over ground using a ReWalk™. vGRF was recorded using the F-Scan™ system (TekScan, Boston, MA, USA).

OUTCOME MEASURES: Peak stance average (PSA) was computed from vGRF and normalized across all participants by percent body weight. Peak vGRF was determined for heel strike, mid-stance, and toe-off. Relative linear impulse and harmonic analysis provided quantitative support for analysis of powered exoskeletal gait.

RESULTS: Participants with motor-complete SCI, ambulating independently with a ReWalk™, demonstrated mechanical loading magnitudes and patterns similar to able-bodied gait. Harmonic analysis of PSA profile by Fourier transform contrasted frequency of stance phase gait components between able-bodied and powered exoskeleton-assisted walking.

CONCLUSION: Powered exoskeleton-assisted walking in persons with motor-complete SCI generated vGRF similar in magnitude and pattern to that of able-bodied walking. This suggests the potential for powered exoskeleton-assisted walking to provide a mechanism for mechanical loading to the lower extremities. vGRF profile can be used to examine both magnitude of loading and gait mechanics of powered exoskeleton-assisted walking among participants of different weight, gait speed, and level of assist.

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