Walking With a Robotic Exoskeleton Does Not Mimic Natural Gait: A Within-Subjects Study
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BACKGROUND: Robotic exoskeleton devices enable individuals with lower extremity weakness to stand up and walk over ground with full weight-bearing and reciprocal gait. Limited information is available on how a robotic exoskeleton affects gait characteristics.OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to examine whether wearing a robotic exoskeleton affects temporospatial parameters, kinematics, and muscle activity during gait.METHODS: The study was completed by 15 healthy adults (mean age 26.2 [SD 8.3] years; 6 males, 9 females). Each participant performed walking under 2 conditions: with and without wearing a robotic exoskeleton (EKSO). A 10-camera motion analysis system synchronized with 6 force plates and a surface electromyography (EMG) system captured temporospatial and kinematic gait parameters and lower extremity muscle activity. For each condition, data for 5 walking trials were collected and included for analysis.RESULTS: Differences were observed between the 2 conditions in temporospatial gait parameters of speed, stride length, and double-limb support time. When wearing EKSO, hip and ankle range of motion (ROM) were reduced and knee ROM increased during the stance phase. However, during the swing phase, knee and ankle ROM were reduced when wearing the exoskeleton bionic suit. When wearing EKSO, EMG activity decreased bilaterally in the stance phase for all muscle groups of the lower extremities and in the swing phase for the distal muscle groups (tibialis anterior and soleus) as well as the left medial hamstrings.CONCLUSIONS: Conclusions: Wearing EKSO altered temporospatial gait parameters, lower extremity kinematics, and muscle activity during gait in healthy adults. EKSO appears to promote a type of gait that is disparate from normal gait in first-time users. More research is needed to determine the impact on gait training with EKSO in people with gait impairments.