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MIT ‘Anklebot’ gauges joint stiffness to improve rehab

An entrance and side view of a volunteer sporting the Anklebot, which moves the ankle and information, its stiffness.

The ankle is something of an anatomical puzzle.

“Think about you may have a set of pebbles, and also you wrap a whole bunch of elastic bands around them,” Neville Hogan, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, said in a faculty news document. “That’s just about a description of what the ankle is. It can be nowhere near an easy joint from a kinematics standpoint.”

So Hogan teamed up with colleagues at MIT’s Newman Laboratory for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation to check Anklebot, a robot that uses electrodes to report the torque and angular displacement at the joint and calculate stiffness in various guidelines.

To do that, the boot is established to a knee brace that is in turn connected to a custom shoe, and Anklebot strikes the person’s foot in a programmed trajectory to check the ankles customary vary of movement.

In checking out the boot on 10 healthy volunteers, the crew discovered that the motion of the ankle when moving facet to aspect is actually unbiased of the movement when moving up and down. They also found that the ankle is weakest when turning inward, enhanced when tilting backward and forward, and strongest when simply transferring up and down.

These findings, published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Neural techniques and Rehabilitation Engineering, might lend a hand bodily therapists who’re working with victims of strokes and other motor problems, and even inform preventive measures for wholesome individuals who need to stay strong.

Hogan has in the past labored with colleagues to develop MIT-Manus, a rehabilitative boot for upper-extremity function. Both are designed to fortify muscle mass by means of detecting power and adjusting the power utilized to the joint accordingly. Think of it as a customized weight press that won’t do the entire give you the results you want, but will not push you past your restrict.

“Basically that you may go to sleep in [some] machines, and in truth some sufferers do,” Hogan introduced. “What we’re looking to do with machines in remedy is equivalent to helping the patients and weaning them off the dependence on the laptop. It can be just a little bit like coaching.”

On this small study, Anklebot was once linked to a video display, where muscle activity will be viewed in the type of a pixilated bar transferring up and down. Each and every muscle’s job was once recorded because the volunteers answered to the boot’s opposing drive, and the results had been plotted on a graph. This is how the researchers had been ready to see that the ankle was stiffest when toe-up or toe-down and least stiff when turning inward, meaning this motion will be most susceptible to harm.

Now not most effective does working out ankle mechanics inform healing procedures for sufferers with motor problems, but it might additionally help train healthy individuals to train their ankles in specific ways that fortify them and help reduce future injuries. Hogan suggested it can even lead to better footwear — i.e., “may we make aesthetically pleasing high heels which might be stiffer within the [side to side] direction? What that impact, and is it value doing? It can be an enchanting question.”

We will need to watch for the reply. At this level, the group is enthusiastic about the usage of the boot for rehabilitation functions.