Inflatable Soft Wearable Robot for Reducing Therapist Fatigue During Upper Extremity Rehabilitation

AuthorsCiarán O’Neill, Tommaso Proietti, Kristin Nuckols, Megan E. Clarke, Cameron J. Hohimer, Alison Cloutier, David J. Lin, Conor J. Walsh 
AbstractIntense therapy is a key factor to improve rehabilitation outcomes. However, when performing rehabilitative stretching with the upper limb of stroke survivors, therapist fatigue is often the limiting factor for the number of repetitions per session. In this work we present an inflatable soft wearable robot aimed at improving severe stroke rehabilitation by reducing therapist fatigue during upper extremity stretching. The device consists of a textile-based inflatable actuator anchored to the torso and arm via functional apparel. Upon inflation, the device creates a moment of force about the glenohumeral joint to counteract effects of gravity and assist in elevating the arm. During a device-assisted (i.e. inflated) standard stretching protocol with a therapist, we showed increased range of motion across five stroke survivors, and reduced muscular activity and cardiac effort by the therapist, when comparing to a vented device condition. Our results demonstrate the potential for this technology to assist a therapist during upper extremity rehabilitation exercises and future studies will explore its impact on increasing dose and intensity of therapy delivered in a given session, with the goal of improving rehabilitation outcomes.