Limited evidence is available on optimal patient effort and degree of assistance to achieve preferable changes during robot-assisted training (RAT) for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients with spasticity. To investigate the relationship between patient effort and robotic assistance, we performed training using an electromyography-based robotic assistance device (HAL-SJ) in an SCI patient at multiple settings adjusted to patient effort. In this exploratory study, we report immediate change in muscle contraction patterns, patient effort, and spasticity in a 64-year-old man, diagnosed with cervical SCI and with American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale C level and C4 neurological level, who underwent RAT using HAL-SJ from post-injury day 403. Three patient effort conditions (comfortable, somewhat hard, and no-effort) by adjusting HAL-SJ’s assists were set for each training session. Degree of effort during flexion and extension exercise was assessed by visual analog scale, muscle contraction pattern by electromyography, modified Ashworth scale, and maximum elbow extension and flexion torques, immediately before and after each training session, without HAL-SJ. The amount of effort during training with the HAL-SJ at each session was evaluated. The degree of effort during training can be set to three effort conditions as we intended by adjusting HAL-SJ. In sessions other than the no-effort setting, spasticity improved, and the level of effort was reduced immediately after training. Spasticity did not decrease in the training session using HAL-SJ with the no-effort setting, but co-contraction further increased during extension after training. Extension torque was unchanged in all sessions, and flexion torque decreased in all sessions. When performing upper-limb training with HAL-SJ in this SCI patient, the level of assistance with some effort may reduce spasticity and too strong assistance may increase co-contraction. Sometimes, a patient’s effort may be seemingly unmeasurable; hence, the degree of patient effort should be further measured.
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