Foot drop usually happens due to neurological and muscular diseases. It limits individuals’ abilities in ankle and toe represented in dorsiflexion during swing phase, and plantar flexion during heel strike. A non-surgical solution to such weakness is the use of ankle foot orthoses (AFOs) which can assist in such abnormal ambulation. The purpose of this work is to develop a new ankle foot orthosis that helps patients to have more normal ankle joint behavior. The proposed AFO device takes advantage of the superelastic behavior of Ni-rich NiTi alloys. In order to evaluate the performance of the Ni-rich NiTi hinged ankle foot orthoses, several motion analysis tests for a normal walking of a healthy subject were conducted. Also, a finite element model were developed to evaluate the performance of superelastic versus stainless steel springs.
A Ni-rich NiTi wire was wrapped around a designed rod and the two heads were fixed to the rod (to get the shape of a spring). Then a heat treatment process was performed in a furnace to shape set the NiTi wires and to provide them with the needed superelastic behavior. The produced springs were connected to a designed hinged ankle foot orthoses. Motion analysis was performed on a healthy subject during normal walking in the case of using conventional stainless steel springs, and with using the produced NiTi springs. Joint kinematics and kinetics data of left lower limb (which was equipped with the AFO brace) were collected and calculated to compare normal walking patterns to the resultant walking patterns with the proposed ankle foot orthosis.
The CAD file of the AFO, hinge structure and the springs were developed. Each component was meshed and the convergence study were conducted. A finite element model was developed after assembling and introducing all the interactions between parts in Abaqus. The boundary conditions were applied to the system in a way simulating normal walking conditions. Different material properties (stainless steel and superelastic NiTi) were assigned to the springs in the model to evaluate the performance of the system under the aforementioned loading scenario.
The results of the motion analysis on a healthy subject during walking indicate that the use of the superelastic NiTi springs causes more normal walk compare to the use of the conventional stainless steel springs, especially during swing phase and heel strike. Moreover, the ankle has closer stiffness profile to the normal walking in the case of using NiTi springs. The results of the finite element analysis show that the super elastic behavior of NiTi results in more hinge rotation while the stress concentration developed on the springs is within the safe levels and cannot cause failure of the NiTi springs.
Motion analysis and finite element models were conducted for the proposed hinged AFO and the results were compared with conventional AFO. By taking advantage of the super elastic characteristic of NiTi, more normal walking behavior was observed in the case of using the proposed AFO with Ni-rich NiTi springs.