A softer recovery after stroke
Passive assistance devices such as canes and braces are often used by people after stroke, but mobility remains limited for some patients. Awad et al. studied the effects of active assistance (delivery of supportive force) during walking in nine patients in the chronic phase of stroke recovery. A soft robotic exosuit worn on the partially paralyzed lower limb reduced interlimb propulsion asymmetry, increased ankle dorsiflexion, and reduced the energy required to walk when powered on during treadmill and overground walking tests. The exosuit could be adjusted to deliver supportive force during the early or late phase of the gait cycle depending on the patient’s needs. Although long-term therapeutic studies are necessary, the immediate improvement in walking performance observed using the powered exosuit makes this a promising approach for neurorehabilitation.
Stroke-induced hemiparetic gait is characteristically slow and metabolically expensive. Passive assistive devices such as ankle-foot orthoses are often prescribed to increase function and independence after stroke; however, walking remains highly impaired despite—and perhaps because of—their use. We sought to determine whether a soft wearable robot (exosuit) designed to supplement the paretic limb’s residual ability to generate both forward propulsion and ground clearance could facilitate more normal walking after stroke. Exosuits transmit mechanical power generated by actuators to a wearer through the interaction of garment-like, functional textile anchors and cable-based transmissions. We evaluated the immediate effects of an exosuit actively assisting the paretic limb of individuals in the chronic phase of stroke recovery during treadmill and overground walking. Using controlled, treadmill-based biomechanical investigation, we demonstrate that exosuits can function in synchrony with a wearer’s paretic limb to facilitate an immediate 5.33 ± 0.91° increase in the paretic ankle’s swing phase dorsiflexion and 11 ± 3% increase in the paretic limb’s generation of forward propulsion (P < 0.05). These improvements in paretic limb function contributed to a 20 ± 4% reduction in forward propulsion interlimb asymmetry and a 10 ± 3% reduction in the energy cost of walking, which is equivalent to a 32 ± 9% reduction in the metabolic burden associated with poststroke walking. Relatively low assistance (~12% of biological torques) delivered with a lightweight and nonrestrictive exosuit was sufficient to facilitate more normal walking in ambulatory individuals after stroke. Future work will focus on understanding how exosuit-induced improvements in walking performance may be leveraged to improve mobility after stroke.
Materials and Methods
Fig. S1. Effects of wearing a passive exosuit on poststroke propulsion and energy expenditure.
Table S1. Tethered exosuit ankle PF assistive forces.
Table S2. Additional individual subject-level data.
Video S1. Video demonstration of exosuit-assisted treadmill walking.
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Science Translational Medicine
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Received: 12 September 2016
Accepted: 7 July 2017
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We thank C. Siviy and F. Saucedo for their assistance with data collection and processing. We thank G. Greeley, T. Wong, Y. Ding, M. Athanassiu, N. Menard, M. Rouleau, N. Karavas, I. Galiana, and A. Asbeck for their assistance developing the exosuit. We thank S. Sullivan, M. Jackson, N. Zingman-Daniels, L. Bizarro, and D. Roberts of the Wyss Institute Clinical Research Team and S. Binder-Macleod for their assistance with the study. We thank our study participants who gave their time for this research. Funding: This work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Warrior Web Program (contract number W911NF-14-C-0051). The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressly or implied, of DARPA or the U.S. Government. This work was also partially funded by the NSF (CNS-1446464), American Heart Association (15POST25090068), NIH (1KL2TR001411), Rolex Award for Enterprise, Harvard University Star Family Challenge, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Author contributions: L.N.A., J.B., K.O., S.M.M.D., K.G.H., T.D.E., and C.J.W. designed the experiments. J.B., K.O., S.M.M.D., K.G.H., and C.J.W. developed the soft exosuit and its actuation system. L.N.A., J.B., K.O., K.H., S.A., and P.K. collected the data. L.N.A., J.B., L.H.S., P.K., and C.J.W. analyzed the data. L.N.A., J.B., and C.J.W. wrote the manuscript. L.N.A., J.B., L.H.S., P.K., and C.J.W. generated the figures and tables. All authors provided critical feedback on the manuscript. Competing interests: Patents have been filed with the U.S. Patent Office describing the exosuit components documented in this manuscript. S.M.M.D., J.B., K.G.H., K.O., and C.J.W. were authors of those patents and patent applications (PCT/US2013/60225, Soft exosuit for assistance with human motion; PCT/US2014/68462, Assistive flexible suits, flexible suit systems, and methods for making and control thereof to assist human mobility; PCT/US2014/40340, Soft exosuit for assistance with human motion; PCT/US2015/51107, Soft exosuit for assistance with human motion). Harvard has entered into a licensing and collaboration agreement with ReWalk Robotics. C.J.W. is a paid consultant to ReWalk Robotics. Data and materials availability: The data supporting the main conclusions of this manuscript are located within the manuscript. Additional data are available upon request (C.J.W., [email protected]).
National Science Foundation: award311818, CNS-1446464
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: award311819, W911NF-14-C-0051
American Heart Association: award311817, 15POST25090068
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: award311820, 1KL2TR001411
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering: award311822
Harvard University Star Family Challenge: award311821
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: award311823
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