By: 6 March 2014

Robotic exoskeleton allows individuals with spinal cord injuries the ability to stand and walk

The University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute in the US is now using a robotic exoskeleton that allows some individuals with spinal cord injuries the opportunity to stand and walk during therapy sessions.

The ReWalk™ system works like a high-tech body suit, providing motorised assistance to help paralysed patients stand up and move their legs. Therapists work with patients on basic skills, such as sitting and standing, before advancing to walking and more advanced techniques such as climbing up and down stairs.

“We have seen some of our patients with spinal cord injuries make great progress with the ReWalk. People who thought they would never get out of a wheelchair actually stand and walk while wearing the system,” says Peter Gorman, MD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief, division of rehabilitation at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute.

Dr Gorman adds: “While the most obvious benefits are mobility in a standing position, patients also report additional physical benefits, including improved digestion and bowel function, which can be affected after sitting in a wheelchair for months and years.”

The exoskeleton uses motorised legs to power movement in the knee and hip. On-board computers and motion sensors adjust for movement. The system mimics natural walking, and patients can work up to functional walking speed. Forearm crutches are needed for balance.

Patients with lower-limb impairment have to be able to use their hands, arms and shoulders, as well as have good cardiovascular health and skeletal strength in order to be able to use the system.