Researchers create robotic ankle support to help stroke patients walk more easily

Researchers develop a soft robotic ankle-support system weighing 0.9 kg, roughly twice as heavy as a soccer ball, to be worn on one side of the body.

US researchers have created a lightweight, soft robotic ankle support that could help stroke patients walk more easily, according to a study published on 26 July.

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"In about 80 per cent of patients post-stroke, it is typical that one limb loses its ability to function normally - a clinical phenomenon called hemiparesis," Xinhua cited the study published in the US journal Science Translational Medicine.

"And even patients who recover walking mobility during rehabilitation retain abnormalities in their gait that hinder them from participating in many activities, pose risks of falls and since they impose a more sedentary lifestyle, can lead to secondary health problems," it said.

To help stroke patients regain their walking abilities, various robotics groups from industry and academia are developing powered wearable devices known as exoskeletons, but most of which are rigid, bulky products that are impractical for people to wear during everyday activities.

"This study provides a glimpse of a new future where much of patient care will be carried out at home with the help of human-friendly robots, which look nothing like the robots we see in television and movies," Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, who was not involved in the study, said.

In search of a better alternative, researchers at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Boston University's College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences developed a soft robotic ankle-support system weighing 0.9 kg, roughly twice as heavy as a soccer ball, to be worn on one side of the body.

Their system consists of a close-fitting waist belt and leg straps connected to a calf sleeve where small robotic actuators exerted force on a shoe insole to provide forward propulsion and correct problems with ankle dorsiflexion, commonly referred to as "drop foot," which affects roughly 20 percent of stroke survivors.

The team was now looking to further personalise its system to specific gait abnormalities, investigate assistance at other joints such as the hip and knee and assess longer-term therapeutic effects of their technology.

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