Simulating the effect of ankle plantarflexion and inversion-eversion exoskeleton torques on center of mass kinematics during walking
Walking balance is central to independent mobility, and falls due to loss of balance are a leading cause of death for people 65 years of age and older. Bipedal gait is typically unstable, but healthy humans use corrective torques to counteract perturbations and stabilize gait. Exoskeleton assistance could benefit people with neuromuscular deficits by providing stabilizing torques at lower-limb joints to replace lost muscle strength and sensorimotor control. However, it is unclear how applied exoskeleton torques translate to changes in walking kinematics. This study used musculoskeletal simulation to investigate how exoskeleton torques applied to the ankle and subtalar joints alter center of mass kinematics during walking. We first created muscle-driven walking simulations using OpenSim Moco by tracking experimental kinematics and ground reaction forces recorded from five healthy adults. We then used forward integration to simulate the effect of exoskeleton torques applied to the ankle and subtalar joints while keeping muscle excitations fixed based on our previous tracking simulation results. Exoskeleton torque lasted for 15% of the gait cycle and was applied between foot-flat and toe-off during the stance phase, and changes in center of mass kinematics were recorded when the torque application ended. We found that changes in center of mass kinematics were dependent on both the type and timing of exoskeleton torques. Plantarflexion torques produced upward and backward changes in velocity of the center of mass in mid-stance and upward and smaller forward velocity changes near toe-off. Eversion and inversion torques primarily produced lateral and medial changes in velocity in mid-stance, respectively. Intrinsic muscle properties reduced kinematic changes from exoskeleton torques. Our results provide mappings between ankle plantarflexion and inversion-eversion torques and changes in center of mass kinematics which can inform designers building exoskeletons aimed at stabilizing balance during walking. Our simulations and software are freely available and allow researchers to explore the effects of applied torques on balance and gait.