Effects of incorporated exoskeleton assisted walking in SCI acute inpatient rehabilitation

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) can have an abrupt loss of upright mobility, function and physical activity. Inflammation and pain are reported to be increased, with negative impacts on quality of life. Powered exoskeletons are a technology that offer standing and walking for eligible persons with SCI and have been used in the chronic SCI population with positive benefits in mobility, function, body composition, and quality of life (QOL). Despite the potential for exoskeletal-assisted walking (EAW) to promote functional recovery and mitigate secondary medical complications, few reports exist on the use of exoskeletons in acute inpatient rehabilitation (AIR).

The goal of this study is to test the effects of early EAW training (incorporated into regular AIR) on accelerating functional recovery and reducing pain and inflammation. A total of 30 people with non-progressive SCI (≥18 years; <6 months after SCI), who are clinically eligible for gait training during AIR, will be randomly assigned into one of two groups. The intervention group will receive gait training with an EksoTM powered exoskeleton, incorporated into usual 3-hour AIR (AIR with EAW group, 20 participants).

The control group will have usual 3-hour AIR, but without using an exoskeleton (AIR only group, 10 participants). Motor function, functional activities, pain and inflammation will be assessed after enrollment in the study and before discharge from AIR. The impact of successful completion of this study would increase knowledge of the effects of using EAW during acute/subacute AIR.

The expected outcome of this study is that EAW during AIR may have the potential on accelerating functional recovery and mitigating some of the secondary consequences of paralysis from SCI during the early phases of recovery and rehabilitation.

Dr. Ann M. Spungen is the principal investigator of this project.