Comparative Study
Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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Walking with unilateral ankle-foot unloading: a comparative biomechanical analysis of three assistive devices.

BACKGROUND: Foot and ankle unloading is essential in various clinical contexts, including ulcers, tendon ruptures, and fractures. Choosing the right assistive device is crucial for functionality and recovery. Yet, research on the impact of devices beyond crutches, particularly ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) designed to unload the ankle and foot, is limited. This study investigates the effects of three types of devices-forearm crutches, knee crutch, and AFO-on biomechanical, metabolic, and subjective parameters during walking with unilateral ankle-foot unloading.

METHODS: Twenty healthy participants walked at a self-selected speed in four conditions: unassisted able-bodied gait, and using three unloading devices, namely forearm crutches, iWalk knee crutch, and ZeroG AFO. Comprehensive measurements, including motion capture, force plates, and metabolic system, were used to assess various spatiotemporal, kinematic, kinetic, and metabolic parameters. Additionally, participants provided subjective feedback through questionnaires. The conditions were compared using a within-subject crossover study design with repeated measures ANOVA.

RESULTS: Significant differences were found between the three devices and able-bodied gait. Among the devices, ZeroG exhibited significantly faster walking speed and lower metabolic cost. For the weight-bearing leg, ZeroG exhibited the shortest stance phase, lowest braking forces, and hip and knee angles most similar to normal gait. However, ankle plantarflexion after push-off using ZeroG was most different from normal gait. IWalk and crutches caused significantly larger center-of-mass mediolateral and vertical fluctuations, respectively. Participants rated the ZeroG as the most stable, but more participants complained it caused excessive pressure and pain. Crutches were rated with the highest perceived exertion and lowest comfort, whereas no significant differences between ZeroG and iWalk were found for these parameters.

CONCLUSIONS: Significant differences among the devices were identified across all measurements, aligning with previous studies for crutches and iWalk. ZeroG demonstrated favorable performance in most aspects, highlighting the potential of AFOs in enhancing gait rehabilitation when unloading is necessary. However, poor comfort and atypical sound-side ankle kinematics were evident with ZeroG. These findings can assist clinicians in making educated decisions about prescribing ankle-foot unloading devices and guide the design of improved devices that overcome the limitations of existing solutions.

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