UNO research explores ways to make walking easier

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Sara Meadows
NEWS EDITOR

“We are now thinking of ways these methods can be used in everyday practice, for example, by using systems for assisted walking exercise therapy at physical therapy clinics.” Photo courtesy of UNO News Center.

Researchers at UNO discovered a way to reduce the energy people spend walking by as much as half, which could have implications for patient therapy practices.

The study was published in the prestigious journal Science Robotics and was led by Philippe Malcolm, assistant professor in biomechanics at UNO. The study marks a new milestone for high-impact institutional research.

The research found that a strategically timed pull from a waist belt connected to a pulley can help someone use less energy for each step while walking. But it was the timing of that forward pull that came as a surprise.

“When we walk, there is a short period between steps where one foot is stopping its forward motion while the other is preparing to accelerate to take the next step forward,” Malcom said. “Our research shows that this brief window where both feet are on the ground is the best time to apply force to assist walking most efficiently.’

The device is operated by timed pulls from a motorized pulley while an individual walks on a treadmill. It is relatively easy to make individualized adjustments, since it only requires wearing a waist belt.

The findings could have applications for exercise therapists in clinical settings who can provide care for patients with conditions like peripheral artery disease. Iraklis Pipinos, a vascular surgeon at UNMC, collaborated on the study and sees the benefits of this research.

“My patients have hardening of their arteries causing problems in the circulation to their legs, resulting in leg pain and reduced mobility,” Pipinos said. “I was touched to hear that certain patients felt relief in their legs for the first time when they tried the device. We are now thinking of ways these methods can be used in everyday practice, for example, by using systems for assisted walking exercise therapy at physical therapy clinics.”

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