Robotic exoskeletons that can help people with spinal cord injury (SCI) walk have been around for a while, intriguing us with the possibilities for those with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities which rob the body of its ability to walk—until now. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first-ever motorized mobility device designed specifically to help those with paraplegia regain their ability to walk.
The device, called ReWalk, is a powered exoskeleton worn over the legs and part of the upper body, enabling people with paraplegia to sit, stand and walk. The device is not perfect and requires some assistance to use, but it’s a huge advancement for those who suffer from certain kinds of SCI.
Christy Foreman of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA, says, “Innovative devices such as ReWalk go a long way towards helping individuals with spinal cord injuries gain some mobility. Along with physical therapy, training, and assistance from a caregiver, these individuals may be able to use these devices to walk again in their homes and in their communities.”
Designed by Israeli inventor, Dr. Amit Goffer, who was paralyzed in a car crash, ReWalk is a motorized device which uses a metal brace to lend support to the legs and body.
The motors permit hip, ankle and knee movements. The device is also equipped with a tilt sensor for bending and sitting, and the power supply and computer are worn as a backpack. A wireless remote strapped to the wrist provides convenient controls, and onboard programming tracks and “learns” the user’s specific pacing habits while reproducing a normal human gait.
There are, however, some limitations to the device. Users will have to be examined and meet certain criteria and attend a training program along with their qualified caregiver. The device is not approved for such movements as running, climbing stairs (though it IS possible to do so,) or participating in sports, and it can’t be used by those who have a history of severe neurological injuries, unstable spines, unhealed or pelvic fractures, or spasticity. In addition, it’s not recommended for those with pressure sores or with circulatory, heart, and lung conditions.
The results of a study that involved over 30 participants were reviewed by the FDA committee, who examined various walking distances, how long it took to traverse areas, and how the device performed over various terrain, as well as looking at the risk of physical complications such as pressure sores and falling.
While it may not be a perfect solution, it may feel that way by those eligible to regain a sense of mobility and self-reliance through its use. At the moment, the ReWalk exoskeleton costs a hefty $69,000. Disabled veterans are some of the first to have access to the ReWalk, and you can find out more about it, too.
If you’re interested in checking it out, some rehabilitation centers have acquired them. The manufacturer provides general, purchasing, and pricing information, and a list of rehabilitation centers on their Web site. Watch the video to see ReWalk in action. If you’ve tried the ReWalk exoskeleton, please comment on your experience!