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Clinical effectiveness and safety of powered exoskeleton-assisted walking in patients with spinal cord injury: systematic review with meta-analysis

Authors Miller LE, Zimmermann A, Herbert W

Received 24 December 2015

Accepted for publication 4 February 2016

Published 22 March 2016 Volume 2016:9 Pages 455—466

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/MDER.S103102

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Jeffrey Clymer

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Scott Fraser

Larry E Miller,1 Angela K Zimmermann,1 William G Herbert,1,2

1Miller Scientific Consulting, Inc., Asheville, NC, 2Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA

Background: Powered exoskeletons are designed to safely facilitate ambulation in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI). We conducted the first meta-analysis of the available published research on the clinical effectiveness and safety of powered exoskeletons in SCI patients.
Methods: MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched for studies of powered exoskeleton-assisted walking in patients with SCI. Main outcomes were analyzed using fixed and random effects meta-analysis models.
Results: A total of 14 studies (eight ReWalk™, three Ekso™, two Indego®, and one unspecified exoskeleton) representing 111 patients were included in the analysis. Training programs were typically conducted three times per week, 60–120 minutes per session, for 1–24 weeks. Ten studies utilized flat indoor surfaces for training and four studies incorporated complex training, including walking outdoors, navigating obstacles, climbing and descending stairs, and performing activities of daily living. Following the exoskeleton training program, 76% of patients were able to ambulate with no physical assistance. The weighted mean distance for the 6-minute walk test was 98 m. The physiologic demand of powered exoskeleton-assisted walking was 3.3 metabolic equivalents and rating of perceived exertion was 10 on the Borg 6–20 scale, comparable to self-reported exertion of an able-bodied person walking at 3 miles per hour. Improvements in spasticity and bowel movement regularity were reported in 38% and 61% of patients, respectively. No serious adverse events occurred. The incidence of fall at any time during training was 4.4%, all occurring while tethered using a first-generation exoskeleton and none resulting in injury. The incidence of bone fracture during training was 3.4%. These risks have since been mitigated with newer generation exoskeletons and refinements to patient eligibility criteria.
Conclusion: Powered exoskeletons allow patients with SCI to safely ambulate in real-world settings at a physical activity intensity conducive to prolonged use and known to yield health benefits.

Keywords: ambulation, Ekso, Indego, orthosis, ReWalk, SCI

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