Collections > UNC Scholarly Publications > BioMed Central > A neuromechanics-based powered ankle exoskeleton to assist walking post-stroke: a feasibility study

Abstract Background In persons post-stroke, diminished ankle joint function can contribute to inadequate gait propulsion. To target paretic ankle impairments, we developed a neuromechanics-based powered ankle exoskeleton. Specifically, this exoskeleton supplies plantarflexion assistance that is proportional to the user’s paretic soleus electromyography (EMG) amplitude only during a phase of gait when the stance limb is subjected to an anteriorly directed ground reaction force (GRF). The purpose of this feasibility study was to examine the short-term effects of the powered ankle exoskeleton on the mechanics and energetics of gait. Methods Five subjects with stroke walked with a powered ankle exoskeleton on the paretic limb for three 5 minute sessions. We analyzed the peak paretic ankle plantarflexion moment, paretic ankle positive work, symmetry of GRF propulsion impulse, and net metabolic power. Results The exoskeleton increased the paretic plantarflexion moment by 16% during the powered walking trials relative to unassisted walking condition (p < .05). Despite this enhanced paretic ankle moment, there was no significant increase in paretic ankle positive work, or changes in any other mechanical variables with the powered assistance. The exoskeleton assistance appeared to reduce the net metabolic power gradually with each 5 minute repetition, though no statistical significance was found. In three of the subjects, the paretic soleus activation during the propulsion phase of stance was reduced during the powered assistance compared to unassisted walking (35% reduction in the integrated EMG amplitude during the third powered session). Conclusions This feasibility study demonstrated that the exoskeleton can enhance paretic ankle moment. Future studies with greater sample size and prolonged sessions are warranted to evaluate the effects of the powered ankle exoskeleton on overall gait outcomes in persons post-stroke.