Ottobock is big news in Germany. When the company celebrated its centenary earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed 350 distinguished guests from politics, industry and academia at its Lower Saxony HQ.

On the world stage too, it is a dominant force, with a team of over 7,300 and an array of mobility-boosting products available across the globe.

The company exhibited at this year’s European Neuro Convention in Birmingham; and NR Times took the opportunity to explore its newest offerings.

Among them is latest version of C-Brace, billed as ‘the world’s only stance and swing phase controlled orthosis’. For users affected by partial or total paralysis of the knee extensors, this means being able to walk more naturally.

In neuro-rehab terms, this might be required for example, after stroke, brain injury or polio. In the past, paralysis orthoses were limited to locking and unlocking the knee joint, leading to abrupt movements – for example when sitting down.

The C-Brace, however, is able to respond rapidly and intelligently to the user’s immediate situation, including to tripping situations.

An integrated microprocessor controls the stance and swing phase of the leg, and therefore the entire gait cycle. The result is that users no longer need to pay attention to every step and can navigate stairs, uneven ground and slopes more naturally.

The new generation of C-Brace comes with a few useful additions. The sensor technology has been stepped up to make it more dynamic and sensitive than previous versions.

A clever introduction is the Cockpit smartphone app that enables users to adjust their joint and switch into different modes such as ‘cycling’. It is also supported by the Setup app, designed for the orthotist’s use.

An additional advancement is that it is smaller, so can be worn under clothing; it is also lighter, meaning less effort is needed to walk.

Jana Middlebrook (pictured above), Orthotic Academy clinician at Ottobock UK, says: “Everything we do is aimed at improving the patient’s life and reducing the impact their disability has on them. With other braces on the market, it can be easy to accidently unlock the knee, particularly on stairs or slopes.

“The C-Brace will lockout to prevent the patient from falling. This computer controlled brace enables the user to walk step over step and to have a controlled sit. Often if people have weakness in their quad muscles, they end up throwing themselves down when they sit. This prevents that.”

Also relatively new to Ottobock’s product portfolio, meanwhile, is the Bioness L300 Go. Created by Californian-based Bioness, this is a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system designed for patients with foot drop, for example in MS or after a stroke.

FES involves the application of small electrical charges to a muscle that has become paralysed or weakened, due to brain or spinal cord damage. The electrical charge stimulates the muscle to make its usual movement.

With foot drop, disruptions in the nerve pathways between the legs and the brain prevent the foot from being lifted to the correct angle when walking. FES can help to change this.

Ottobock has been the exclusive distributor of the new FES generation and a strategic partner of Bioness since September 2017. This latest product was introduced to the UK last year.

As well as electric stimulation, it provides support for instability of the knee and can be used for both children and adults. It is available as an independent lower leg system (L300 Go), a combined lower leg and thigh system (L300 Go and L300 Go Plus Upgrade) and as an independent thigh system that uses a foot sensor (L300 Go Plus Stand Alone).

Features include 3D motion detection, multichannel stimulation, Bluetooth programming and a user app for mobile devices.

Middlebrook says: “Importantly, it doesn’t have wires so the patient can just pop it on and off and it doesn’t require the fishing of electrodes, which is quite a complicated technique required to make sure the correct nerves are stimulated.

“The technology works on gyroscopes on three planes so, rather than just being able to walk in a straight line, users can walk diagonally and backwards, and it will still work to lift the foot clear of the ground. With the upgraded version, you can also control the knee.

“If there is a much higher level of weakness, you can stimulate the quads or the hamstring muscles to control knee hyperextension or knee flexion.”

L300 Go is supported by a ‘learning algorithm’ that adapts to changes in gait dynamics and deploys stimulation within 0.01 seconds. The device controls dorsiflexion (movement of the foot upwards) and inversion/eversion (tilting the sole of the foot inward and outward) with a single electrode pad – plus acceleration sensors which monitor movement patterns on three planes.

Other features include an optional foot sensor and remote control and an app that allows users to monitor their own therapy progress.

For more information on this and other Ottobock products visit: www.ottobock.co.uk.