Exoskeleton functions as another set of legs
Increasingly, exoskeletons are becoming a standard tool to help individuals with spinal cord injuries practice movement and regain strength in their lower extremities.
At just 26 pounds, the Indego, a powered hip-knee exoskeleton, is a lightweight, portable option that can be used for both personal mobility and as a gait training tool for physical therapy. The device, which can be broken down into five pieces and placed into a compact bag, fits onto the lower limbs and trunk and offers numerous benefits for users.
“Humans are designed to stand and move—that’s why we have legs,” explained physical therapist Shuo-Hsiu “James” Chang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s McGovern Medical School. “From a clinical perspective, this device helps a patient who is injured stand up. That’s very important, not just for psychological benefits but also for physiological benefits: bone density, bladder function, skin condition, cardiopulmonary function—all these physiological systems are able to benefit from just standing.”
Chang, who led a trial of the Indego at TIRR Memorial Hermann and is administrative director of the NeuroRecovery Research Center at TIRR, added that a secondary benefit of the device in a physical therapy setting is that it aids the clinicians who are working with the patient. The Indego also includes an iOS pad to help track, manage and customize its use.
“It’s easy to set up, it’s lightweight, and the device can generate a more natural gait pattern, so it feels like you’re walking normally,” Chang said. “Our experience is that the research participants like it very much.”
Indego has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical and personal use and is available for purchase. In the United States, it costs about $80,000. Many insurance carriers are still considering whether or not to cover it.