Wearable robotic exoskeletons (ERM) for overground walking are emerging technologies developed for people with decreased or no walking ability due to sensorimotor impairments. They produce motorized assistance at the hips and knees to generate walking movements. Walking overground with a WRE is complex and demanding from a physical-cognitive perspective. Surprisingly, these demands have not been very well documented to date. This lack of knowledge also affects the development of training programs with a WRE, the precise effects of these latest remain unknown.
Therefore, the research program will be focusing on 1) quantifying muscular, cardiorespiratory, postural and cognitive demands while performing sit-stand transfers, maintaining standing and walking, and 2) developing, testing and implanting innovative training programs with a WRE. These programs will be designed to minimize the negative effects of physical inactivity and, for some people, to optimize locomotor capacity. Clinical, biomechanical, physiological, imaging and biochemical data will be collected during transfers and overground walking with, and without a WRE whenever possible, from persons with complete or incomplete spinal cord injury and healthy. Questionnaires and individual interviews wil also be completed.
The new knowledge generated will inform the development of physical activity programs minimizing the risk of secondary musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory and endocrine-metabolic complications related to the low level of physical activity and elevated non-active sitting time in people with a spinal cord injury. In addition, for those with walking recovery potential, neurorehabilitation programs should increase the speed, endurance, symmetry and aesthetics of walking. Ultimately, these programs may also increase the functional capacity, social participation and life satisfaction among the population studied.