Wearable Robotic Exoskeletons

Wearable Robotic Exo-Suits Key in Rehabilitation

According to the CDC, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. While some individuals make a full recovery, others certainly do not. Stroke is one of the main causes of serious long-term disability, with more than 50% of stroke survivors aged over 65 reporting reduced mobility. If a stroke survivor experiences leg paralysis following their stroke, there is a 35% chance they will not regain useful function of that leg.

What’s more, up to one quarter of all stroke survivors are unable to walk without physical assistance. Surviving a stroke is a life-changing event that takes an incredible toll on an individual and their loved ones, with the road to recovery being a long and painful one. Learning to walk again after a stroke is arduous, to say the least. It requires extremely labor-intensive limb manipulation therapy, and hours of rehabilitation with a therapist on a daily basis. However, an exciting new wearable technology is hoping to change that.

Wearable Technologies for Stroke Survivors

In recent years, wearable technologies have moved beyond fitness trackers and sleep monitors and have begun to change the landscape of patient care. Remote patient monitoring systems, wearable glucose testing devices and similar apparatuses are becoming commonplace, and it doesn’t stop there. Wearable technology has also had an impact on the field of injury rehabilitation – particularly when it comes to regaining the function of your legs after a stroke.

The technology pioneering this field is the ReStore Soft Exo-Suit from ReWalk Robotics. This wearable, bionic masterpiece is the first commercially available suit of its kind and has been developed specifically to treat mobility issues post-stroke. This technology is hot off the press, with the ReStore Exo-Suit just receiving FDA clearance in June 2019, and CE Mark for the European market in May 2019.

Founded in 2001, ReWalk Robotics focuses on innovative medical devices that can offer powered solutions to help individuals who don’t have full function of their lower limbs. The ReStore suit is essentially designed for use in a clinical environment, where a patient can be monitored and evaluated by a trained therapist.

How Does the ReStore Work?

Designed in Israel, the ReStore is battery-powered, lightweight and soft. Predominantly composed of fabric, it has cables and a waist pack with a control unit. Power is transmitted from the waist belt-mounted motors, through the cables and down to attachment points on the calf, as well as an insole which is placed on the patient’s shoe. Users also have sensors clipped to their shoes that detect motion, and a trained therapist is able to monitor key metrics, adjust the level of assistance, change modes of the device and more using a handheld smartphone controller.

The idea is that a trained physical therapist can use the suit for rehabilitation sessions with their patients, slowly easing them back into the basic movements of walking. The system offers both plantar flexion and dorsiflexion (forward motion and ground clearance) training, which integrates with the natural movement of the patient. The ReStore can adapt to fit the specific gait of the user, and also provides data and feedback in real time to the therapist, allowing a patient’s progress to be tracked.

As well as the ReStore system, ReWalk Robotics have also developed the ReWalk Personal 6.0, which is available both to clinics and also for personal purchase. The ReWalk system is a little different than the ReStore, and is designed for those with permanent lower limb disabilities such as paraplegia. The ReWalk senses changes to a user’s center of gravity, and controls their movements based on this. For instance, you take your first step by tilting your upper body forward, a movement recognized by the sensor and related to a leg movement. Repeated body shifting generates a sequence of steps – and just like that you’re walking.

How Effective is the ReStore for Stroke Rehabilitation?

In 2018, ReWalk Robotics conducted a multi-site clinical study of the ReStore system throughout the US. The data obtained from this study was submitted to the FDA in ReStore’s 510(k) submission, but the results of the clinical study haven’t actually been published yet. For ReStore to become commonplace throughout rehabilitation clinics in the United States, the results of the study would likely have to show that it can provide superior rehabilitation for stroke survivors than current physical therapy techniques.

One surprising drawcard of the ReStore system is its relative affordability. According to ReWalk Robotics, the ReStore has a launch price of just $28,900, with leasing options also available. Given that a clinic could use one suit for multiple patients, the cost of the system is by no means extreme. If the initial clinical data shows promise, the ReStore may be seen in more and more clinics and rehabilitation centers throughout the US in the coming years.