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Robotic hip exoskeleton assists stroke patients

by Pieter Werner

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a robotic hip exoskeleton, a new tool designed to aid in stroke rehabilitation and improve walking function in patients. This innovation, which has been detailed in a study published in the IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, stands out for its potential to enhance gait rehabilitation methods, making them more effective and accessible.

Stroke survivors often face significant challenges in walking, with more than 80% experiencing difficulty in this area. The robotic hip exoskeleton developed at UMass Amherst is aimed at addressing this issue. It works by applying resistive and assistive forces to the hips, mimicking the effects of split-belt treadmill training, which is a known method for reducing walking asymmetry in stroke patients. This technology represents a shift from traditional treadmill-based training methods, which, though effective, have limitations in translating improvements to overground walking situations.

The concept behind the exoskeleton’s design is inspired by the split-belt treadmill, a device that exaggerates a patient’s walking asymmetry to encourage neurological adaptation. However, researchers, including Wouter Hoogkamer, assistant professor of kinesiology, and Meghan Huber, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, highlight the importance of developing methods that translate to real-world contexts. The exoskeleton’s portability is a key advantage, allowing for its use in overground walking scenarios, more closely resembling daily activities.

The proof-of-concept study demonstrated that the exoskeleton could effectively alter gait asymmetry in neurologically intact individuals. The research team, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professors from the Human Robot Systems Lab and the Integrative Locomotion Lab, is now looking to apply this technology in real-world contexts and measure its impact on stroke survivors.

Photo: Meghan Huber wearing the hip exoskeleton with Mark Price and Banu Abdikadirova (credit: Derrick Zellmann) 


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