Robot-assisted ankle-foot-orthosis (AFO) can provide immediate powered ankle assistance in post-stroke gait training. Our research team has developed a novel lightweight portable robot-assisted AFO which is capable of detecting walking intentions using sensor feedback of wearer’s gait pattern. This study aims to investigate the therapeutic effects of robot-assisted gait training with ankle dorsiflexion assistance.
This was a double-blinded randomized controlled trial. Nineteen chronic stroke patients with motor impairment at ankle participated in 20-session robot-assisted gait training for about five weeks, with 30-min over-ground walking and stair ambulation practices. Robot-assisted AFO either provided active powered ankle assistance during swing phase in Robotic Group (n = 9), or torque impedance at ankle joint as passive AFO in Sham Group (n = 10). Functional assessments were performed before and after the 20-session gait training with 3-month Follow-up. Primary outcome measure was gait independency assessed by Functional Ambulatory Category (FAC). Secondary outcome measures were clinical scores including Fugl-Meyer Assessment (FMA), Modified Ashworth Scale (MAS), Berg Balance Scale (BBS), Timed 10-Meter Walk Test (10MWT), Six-minute Walk Test (SMWT), supplemented by gait analysis. All outcome measures were performed in unassisted gait after patients had taken off the robot-assisted AFO. Repeated-measures analysis of covariance was conducted to test the group differences referenced to clinical scores before training.
After 20-session robot-assisted gait training with ankle dorsiflexion assistance, the active ankle assistance in Robotic Group induced changes in gait pattern with improved gait independency (all patients FAC ≥ 5 post-training and 3-month follow-up), motor recovery, walking speed, and greater confidence in affected side loading response (vertical ground reaction force + 1.49 N/kg, peak braking force + 0.24 N/kg) with heel strike instead of flat foot touch-down at initial contact (foot tilting + 1.91°). Sham Group reported reduction in affected leg range of motion (ankle dorsiflexion − 2.36° and knee flexion − 8.48°) during swing.
Robot-assisted gait training with ankle dorsiflexion assistance could improve gait independency and help stroke patients developing confidence in weight acceptance, but future development of robot-assisted AFO should consider more lightweight and custom-fit design.
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02471248. Registered 15 June 2015 retrospectively registered.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
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