Robotic Device Shows Promise For Kids With Cerebral Palsy
Training with a robotic device may help some kids with cerebral palsy gain strength and improve both posture and walking abilities, researchers say.
A small study suggests that a robotic system known as the Tethered Pelvic Assist Device could help those with crouch gait, a condition affecting a subset of individuals with cerebral palsy that’s marked by excessive bending of the hips, knees or ankles.
After participating in 15 training sessions with the system, six children studied showed improvement in posture and muscle coordination as well as walking features like step length, toe clearance, range of motion and heel-to-toe pattern, according to findings published this week in the journal Science Robotics.
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For the study, the kids participated in 16-minute training sessions over the course of six weeks. They were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study period.
The children wore the robotic device — a pelvic belt attached to several wires — while walking on a treadmill. Tension on the wires was adjusted in real time based on data captured by cameras. The device applied downward force — similar to what a typical child experiences carrying a backpack — in order to retrain certain leg muscles.
“Currently, there is no well-established physical therapy or strengthening exercise for the treatment of crouch gait,” said Sunil Agrawal, a professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University who worked on the study.
“Feedback from the parents and children involved in this study was consistent. They reported improved posture, stronger legs and faster walking speed, and our measurements bear that out,” he said. “We think that our robotic TPAD training with downward pelvic pull could be a very promising intervention for these children.”
Those behind the study are now looking to conduct additional clinical trials on the method including a larger group of kids in addition to examining more variables and potentially looking at children with hemiplegic and quadriplegic cerebral palsy as well.