Occupational arm-support and back-support exoskeletons elicit changes in reactive balance after slip-like and trip-like perturbations on a treadmill
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of arm- and back-support exoskeletons on reactive balance after slip-like and trip-like perturbations on a treadmill. Twenty-eight participants used two arm-support exoskeletons and two back-support exoskeletons with support (i.e., assistive joint torque) activated or deactivated. In each exoskeleton condition, as well in as a control without any exoskeleton, participants were exposed to 12 treadmill perturbations during upright standing. The exoskeletons did not significantly increase the probability of a failed recovery after the perturbations compared to wearing no exoskeleton, but did elicit effects on kinematic variables that suggested balance recovery was more challenging. Moreover, reactive balance differed when wearing back-support and arm-support exoskeletons, and when wearing an activated exoskeleton compared to a deactivated exoskeleton. Together, our results suggest these exoskeletons may increase the risk of slip- and trip-induced falls. The potential mechanisms of this increased risk are discussed and include the added mass and/or motion restrictions associated with wearing these exoskeletons. Our results do not support the assistive hip/back extension moment provided by back-support exoskeletons adversely affecting fall risk.