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Wearable Robotic Exoskeleton May Help MS Patients Walk

February 22, 2016

Research presented this week at the Association for Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting in Sacramento, CA stated that walking with a wearable robotic exoskeleton will enable MS patients to walk much more efficiently.

The exoskeleton helps the patient reduce the amount of energy and muscle movement needed to walk. The researchers studied a 33-year-old female with relapsing-remitting MS who had a score of 6.0 on Expanded Disability Status Scale. The participant received 12 training sessions in exoskeleton-assisted walking and was then asked to perform a series of tests at the end of her training: a timed up-and-go (or TUG) test, which measured the amount of time it took her to go from a sitting to standing position, walk three meters, turn around, return to her chair and sit back down; a 25-foot walking test at both a self-selected and fast pace; and a six-minute walk.

For all tests, the researchers assessed the amount of energy expended as well as the muscle activity in both the upper and lower body. The results of these tests were compared to the results of the same tests completed at the end of the study without the exoskeleton.

During the six-minute walking test, the participant maintained an approximately six percent lower heart rate and required 7.5 percent less oxygen to complete the test in the exoskeleton when compared to walking without it. However, during the 25-foot walking test at a fast speed, the participant's heart rate was 10 percent higher and oxygen consumption was three percent higher when wearing the exoskeleton. Finally, the researchers noticed all muscles in the lower body — with the exception of the semitendinosus, one of three hamstring muscles — showed less activity during the 25-foot walking test at a self-selected speed and the six-minute walking test when assisted by the exoskeleton. And, similar to energy expended, muscle activity increased during the 25-foot walking test at a fast pace in the exoskeleton. When attempting the TUG test, the participant found it difficult to operate the exoskeleton.

"To promote walking for people with MS, we need to be creative and develop novel strategies. Wearable exoskeletons offer the feasibility of assisted over-ground walking and may be effective assistance devices to promote efficient walking, and better quality of life," says Dr. Chang, the lead investigator in the study, who notes the wearable exoskeleton is one of the advanced technologies that could further promote effectiveness of rehabilitation strategies.