An exoskeleton suit has helped children with cerebral palsy to walk.
Experts tested the device on seven children that are suffering from the disorder in a clinical trial.
Each of them were having difficulty walking, with their knees starting to slope inwards.
But a video of them walking in the exoskeleton suit showed noticeable improvements. It helped to improve knee extension for the children and made their walking more fluid while wearing the device.
About 50 percent of children with cerebral palsy lose their ability to walk when they reach adulthood.
Experts say the exoskeleton could help extend ability for people to walk into their adulthood by starting children in it when they are younger.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, studied seven children with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a neurological and movement disorder that occurs in early childhood.
It can limit people’s mobility and independence.
WHAT IS CEREBRAL PALSY?
Cerebral palsy is the umbrella term for a number of brain conditions that affect movement and coordination.
Specifically, it is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles.
The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.
It’s estimated that 764,000 children and adults in the US have one or more symptoms of the disorder.
The CDC says that about 10,000 babies born every year will develop cerebral palsy.
There’s no cure for cerebral palsy, but some treatments are available to ease symptoms, such as physiotherapy.
Life expectancy is usually unaffected, however, the emotional and physical strain can put a great deal of stress on the body which can cause further problems in later life.
The researchers created an exoskeleton suit to improve the crouch gait that develops in people with the disorder.
Crouch gait is excessive knee bending and prevents the person from having proper knee extension to make walking comfortable.
Some reasons why people with cerebral palsy get crouch gait is because their knee extensor muscles are weakened, the knee flexor muscles are overactive or they have poor motor control.
‘The immediate goal was to assess the safety and effectiveness of the exoskeleton,’ said Dr Thomas Bulea, who was the principal investigator of the study and has a PhD in biomedical engineering.
The exoskeleton has sensors in it to track the way the patients moved their limbs when they walk.
It would then interject a knee extension in the leg when safe to help improve walking.
A backpack was attached to the exoskeleton that held a computer to track all of these movements.
The exoskeleton was used in the clinic by seven children aged five to 19.
They came in once a week for five weeks and would walk in the exoskeleton for two to four hours.
The results showed that six out of seven of the children experienced improved knee extension while walking with the exoskeleton.
It also helped improve their step length and speed.
The video showed one child’s walk before and after using the exoskeleton.
Before using the exoskeleton, the child had difficulties picking up his feet and extending both legs.
Researchers created an exoskeleton to help with crouch gait in children with cerebral palsy. Crouch gait hinders the child’s ability to straighten their leg. The exoskeleton helps with that
When wearing the exoskeleton, the child was able to pick up his feet better and moved faster across the floor.
The exoskeleton was used by the children when they needed support, but they were still in charge of their own steps.
Dr Bulea said it was exciting for the researchers to see that the patients were still using their leg muscles when they were in the exoskeleton.
It only interjected itself when it was needed.
‘The ultimate goal is for it to be a mobile rehabilitation device,’ Dr Bulea said.
He wants it to be used in children with cerebral palsy outside of the office for a few hours a day to help make an impact on their walking.
The researchers weren’t able to track if it improved the children’s walking when they weren’t wearing the exoskeleton because it wasn’t a long enough trial.
Dr Bulea said the initial results indicate it could have an impact on the children’s walking ability and a long-term training study would be able to provide that data.
‘Eventually, we want to extend this technology to a broader group and try this assisted technology with people who have more severe impairments,’ Dr Bulea said.
He said the technology could be beneficial to patients with spina bifida and muscular dystrophy in the future.