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01.12.2018 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 1/2018

Shaping neuroplasticity by using powered exoskeletons in patients with stroke: a randomized clinical trial

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation > Ausgabe 1/2018
Rocco Salvatore Calabrò, Antonino Naro, Margherita Russo, Placido Bramanti, Luigi Carioti, Tina Balletta, Antonio Buda, Alfredo Manuli, Serena Filoni, Alessia Bramanti



The use of neurorobotic devices may improve gait recovery by entraining specific brain plasticity mechanisms, which may be a key issue for successful rehabilitation using such approach. We assessed whether the wearable exoskeleton, Ekso™, could get higher gait performance than conventional overground gait training (OGT) in patients with hemiparesis due to stroke in a chronic phase, and foster the recovery of specific brain plasticity mechanisms.


We enrolled forty patients in a prospective, pre-post, randomized clinical study. Twenty patients underwent Ekso™ gait training (EGT) (45-min/session, five times/week), in addition to overground gait therapy, whilst 20 patients practiced an OGT of the same duration. All individuals were evaluated about gait performance (10 m walking test), gait cycle, muscle activation pattern (by recording surface electromyography from lower limb muscles), frontoparietal effective connectivity (FPEC) by using EEG, cortico-spinal excitability (CSE), and sensory-motor integration (SMI) from both primary motor areas by using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation paradigm before and after the gait training.


A significant effect size was found in the EGT-induced improvement in the 10 m walking test (d = 0.9, p < 0.001), CSE in the affected side (d = 0.7, p = 0.001), SMI in the affected side (d = 0.5, p = 0.03), overall gait quality (d = 0.8, p = 0.001), hip and knee muscle activation (d = 0.8, p = 0.001), and FPEC (d = 0.8, p = 0.001). The strengthening of FPEC (r = 0.601, p < 0.001), the increase of SMI in the affected side (r = 0.554, p < 0.001), and the decrease of SMI in the unaffected side (r = − 0.540, p < 0.001) were the most important factors correlated with the clinical improvement.


Ekso™ gait training seems promising in gait rehabilitation for post-stroke patients, besides OGT. Our study proposes a putative neurophysiological basis supporting Ekso™ after-effects. This knowledge may be useful to plan highly patient-tailored gait rehabilitation protocols.

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