Soft exosuits that provide assistive force during movement could be a game changer for patients with mobility issues. Such devices can help enhance rehabilitation and assist patients while they perform everyday tasks. The idea with such technology is that the soft suit feels almost like a piece of clothing and applies force gently and evenly to affect natural movement.
This latest suit, the ReStore exosuit from ReWalk Robotics, has been FDA cleared for use in patients who have experienced a stroke and now have a mobility issue. A recent trial has assessed the ReStore exosuit in terms of safety, feasibility and reliability in post-stroke patients with weakness of the ankle.
Ankle weakness, known as hemiplegia, can occur after a stroke, and it can make walking difficult. With each step we use our ankle to allow our foot to clear the ground, but a weak ankle can make this challenging and result in stumbles and falls. Those with hemiplegia may have to walk differently to compensate and to avoid falls, which is often difficult and can place extra stress on joints and muscles.
The ReStore exosuit is intended to improve ankle movement by assisting with ankle plantarflexion and dorsiflexion during physical therapy. The system consists of a waist belt that houses motors connected to cables, which are in turn linked to a sleeve on the patient’s calf and insole.
The cables can apply a force to the insole or calf to assist with ankle movement. The system also incorporates sensors that relay information to a smartphone, which a physical therapist can use to modulate the amount of force applied, depending on the user’s progress.
In this latest trial of the system, 44 volunteers who had suffered a stroke and were currently experiencing hemiplegia tested the system during five 20-minute physical therapy sessions. “We found that the ReStore provided targeted assistance for plantarflexion and dorsiflexion of the paretic ankle, improving the gait pattern,” said Karen Nolan, a researcher involved in the study. “This is an important first step toward expanding options for rehabilitative care for the millions of individuals with mobility impairments caused by ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.”
At least a third of the volunteers were able to increase their unassisted walking speed, suggesting that the system has great potential. Further tests will be needed to evaluate the efficacy of the system more completely for post-stroke mobility issues, but the current results are certainly very promising.