Study shows wearable robotic exoskeletons improve walking for children with cerebral palsy

August 24, 2017 by Kerry Bennett, Northern Arizona University
Study participant wearing a robotic exoskeleton. Credit: Northern Arizona University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy (CP)—caused by neurological damage before, during or after birth—is the most common movement disorder in children, limiting mobility and independence throughout their lives. An estimated 500,000 children in the U.S. have CP.

Although nearly 60 percent of children with the disorder can walk independently, many have crouch , a pathological walking pattern characterized by excessive knee bending, which can cause an abnormally high level of stress on the knee. Crouch gait can lead to knee pain and progressive loss of function and is often treated through invasive orthopedic surgery.

Assistant professor of mechanical engineering Zach Lerner, who joined Northern Arizona University's Center for Bioengineering Innovation in 2017, recently published a study in the journal Science Translational Medicine investigating whether wearing a robotic —a leg brace powered by small motors—could alleviate crouch gait in children with .

"We evaluated a novel exoskeleton for the treatment of crouch gait, one of the most debilitating pathologies in CP," Lerner said. "In our exploratory, multi-week trial, we fitted seven participants between the ages of five and 19 with robotic exoskeletons designed to increase their ability to extend their knees at specific phases in the walking cycle."

After being fitted with the assistive devices, the children participated in several practice sessions. At the end of the trial, six of the seven participants exhibited improvements in walking posture equivalent to outcomes reported from invasive orthopedic surgery. The researchers also demonstrated that improvements in crouch increased over the course of the exploratory trial, which was conducted at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

"Together, these results provide evidence supporting the use of wearable exoskeletons as a treatment strategy to improve walking in children with CP," Lerner said.

The exoskeleton was safe and well-tolerated, and all the were able to walk independently with the device. Rather than guiding the lower limbs, the exoskeleton dynamically changed their posture by introducing bursts of knee extension assistance during discrete portions of the walking cycle, which resulted in maintained or increased knee extensor muscle activity during exoskeleton use.

"Our results suggest powered exoskeletons should be investigated as an alternative to or in conjunction with existing treatments for crouch gait, including orthopedic surgery, muscle injections and physical therapy," Lerner said.

Lerner leads NAU's Biomechatronics Lab, where his goal is to improve mobility and function in individuals with neuromuscular and musculoskeletal disabilities through innovations in mechanical and biomedical engineering. Building on the encouraging results of this study, his team is working toward conducting longer-term exoskeleton interventions to take place at home and in the community.

Explore further: Robot-driven device improves crouch gait in children with cerebral palsy

More information: Zachary F. Lerner et al. A lower-extremity exoskeleton improves knee extension in children with crouch gait from cerebral palsy, Science Translational Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aam9145

Related Stories

Robot-driven device improves crouch gait in children with cerebral palsy

July 26, 2017
In the U.S., 3.6 out of 1000 school-aged children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). Their symptoms include abnormal gait patterns which results in joint degeneration over time. Slow walking speed, reduced range of motion ...

Procedure can treat stiff-knee gait in spastic cerebral palsy

October 21, 2012
(HealthDay)—For individuals with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and stiff-knee gait with decreased peak knee flexion in the swing phase, distal rectus femoris transfer (DRFT) produces significant and lasting improvements ...

'Walk-DMC' aims to improve surgery outcomes for children with cerebral palsy

April 27, 2016
Children with cerebral palsy frequently undergo invasive surgeries—lengthening tendons, rotating bones, transferring muscles to new locations—in hopes of improving their physical ability to walk or move.

Recommended for you

Scientists reverse aging-associated skin wrinkles and hair loss in a mouse model

July 20, 2018
Wrinkled skin and hair loss are hallmarks of aging. What if they could be reversed?

Breakthrough could impact cancer, ageing and heart disease

July 20, 2018
A team of Sydney scientists has made a groundbreaking discovery in telomere biology, with implications for conditions ranging from cancer to ageing and heart disease. The research project was led by Dr. Tony Cesare, Head ...

Enzyme identified as possible novel drug target for sickle cell disease, Thalassemia

July 19, 2018
Medical researchers have identified a key signaling protein that regulates hemoglobin production in red blood cells, offering a possible target for a future innovative drug to treat sickle cell disease (SCD). Experiments ...

Mice given metabolite succinate found to lose weight by turning up the heat

July 19, 2018
A team of researchers with members from institutions across the U.S. and Canada has found that giving the metabolite succinate to mice fed a high-fat diet prevented obesity. In their paper published in the journal Nature, ...

Supplement may ease the pain of sickle cell disease

July 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—An FDA-approved supplement reduces episodes of severe pain in people with sickle cell disease, a new clinical trial shows.

Scientists uncover DNA 'shield' with crucial roles in normal cell division

July 18, 2018
Scientists have made a major discovery about how cells repair broken strands of DNA that could have huge implications for the treatment of cancer.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.