Differences in Acute Metabolic Responses to Bionic and Nonbionic Ambulation in Spinal Cord Injured Humans and Controls

Jennifer L Maher, Carsten Bach Baunsgaard, Jan van Gerven, Anne E Palermo, Fin Biering-Sorensen, Armando Mendez, Robert W Irwin, Mark S Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (SciVal)


Objectives: To (1) compare energy expenditure during seated rest, standing, and prolonged bionic ambulation or bipedal ambulation in participants with spinal cord injury (SCI) and noninjured controls, respectively, and (2) test effects on postbionic ambulation glycemia in SCI. Design: Two independent group comparison of SCI and controls. Setting: Academic Medical Center. Participants: Ten participants with chronic SCI (C7-T1, American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale A-C) and 10 controls (N=20). Interventions: A commercial bionic exoskeleton. Main Outcome Measures: Absolute and relative (to peak) oxygen consumption, perceived exertion, carbohydrate/fat oxidation, energy expenditure, and postbionic ambulation plasma glucose/insulin. Results: Average work intensity accompanying 45 minutes of outdoor bionic ambulation was <40% peak oxygen consumption, with negligible drift after reaching steady state. Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) did not differ between groups and reflected low exertion. Absolute energy costs for bionic ambulation and nonbionic ambulation were not different between groups despite a 565% higher ambulation velocity in controls and 3.3× higher kilocalorie per meter in SCI. Fuel partitioning was similar between groups and the same within groups for carbohydrate and fat oxidation. Nonsignificant (9%) lowering of the area under a glucose tolerance curve following bionic ambulation required 20% less insulin than at rest. Conclusion: Work intensity during prolonged bionic ambulation for this bionic exoskeleton is below a threshold for cardiorespiratory conditioning but above seated rest and passive standing. Bionic ambulation metabolism is consistent with low RPE and unchanged fuel partitioning from seated rest. Bionic ambulation did not promote beneficial effects on glycemia in well-conditioned, euglycemic participants. These findings may differ in less fit individuals with SCI or those with impaired glucose tolerance. Observed trends favoring this benefit suggest they are worthy of testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-129
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Early online date26 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Exercise
  • Exoskeleton device
  • Metabolism
  • Rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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