Once-per-step control of ankle-foot prosthesis push-off work reduces effort associated with balance during walking
Individuals with below-knee amputation have more difficulty balancing during walking, yet few studies have explored balance enhancement through active prosthesis control. We previously used a dynamical model to show that prosthetic ankle push-off work affects both sagittal and frontal plane dynamics, and that appropriate step-by-step control of push-off work can improve stability. We hypothesized that this approach could be applied to a robotic prosthesis to partially fulfill the active balance requirements of human walking, thereby reducing balance-related activity and associated effort for the person using the device.
We conducted experiments on human participants (N = 10) with simulated amputation. Prosthetic ankle push-off work was varied on each step in ways expected to either stabilize, destabilize or have no effect on balance. Average ankle push-off work, known to affect effort, was kept constant across conditions. Stabilizing controllers commanded more push-off work on steps when the mediolateral velocity of the center of mass was lower than usual at the moment of contralateral heel strike. Destabilizing controllers enforced the opposite relationship, while a neutral controller maintained constant push-off work regardless of body state. A random disturbance to landing foot angle and a cognitive distraction task were applied, further challenging participants’ balance. We measured metabolic rate, foot placement kinematics, center of pressure kinematics, distraction task performance, and user preference in each condition. We expected the stabilizing controller to reduce active control of balance and balance-related effort for the user, improving user preference.
The best stabilizing controller lowered metabolic rate by 5.5% (p = 0.003) and 8.5% (p = 0.02), and step width variability by 10.0% (p = 0.009) and 10.7% (p = 0.03) compared to conditions with no control and destabilizing control, respectively. Participants tended to prefer stabilizing controllers. These effects were not due to differences in average push-off work, which was unchanged across conditions, or to average gait mechanics, which were also unchanged. Instead, benefits were derived from step-by-step adjustments to prosthesis behavior in response to variations in mediolateral velocity at heel strike.
Once-per-step control of prosthetic ankle push-off work can reduce both active control of foot placement and balance-related metabolic energy use during walking.