Abstract

Orthotic treatments for knee osteoarthritis (OA) typically rely on simple mechanisms such as three-point bending straps and single-pin hinges. These commonly prescribed braces cannot treat bicompartmental knee OA, do not consider the muscle weakness that typically accompanies the condition, and employ hinges that restrict the knee's natural biomechanics. Utilizing a novel, personalized joint mechanism in conjunction with magnetorheological dampers, we have developed and evaluated a brace which attempts to address these shortcomings. This process has respected three principal design goals: reducing the load experienced across the entire knee joint, generating a supportive moment to aid the thigh muscles in shock absorption, and interfering minimally with gait kinematics. Two healthy volunteers were chosen to test the system's basic functionality through gait analysis in a motion capture laboratory. Combining the collected kinematic and force-plate data with data taken from sensors onboard the brace, we integrated the brace and leg system into a single inverse dynamics analysis, from which we were able to evaluate the effect of the brace design on the subjects' knee loads and moments. Of the three design goals: a reduction in knee contact forces was demonstrated; increased shock absorption was observed, but not to statistical significance; and natural gait was largely preserved. Taken in total, the outcome of this study supports additional investigation into the system's clinical effectiveness, and suggests that further refinement of the techniques presented in this paper could open the doors to more effective OA treatment through patient specific braces.

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