Perspectives of End Users on the Potential Use of Trunk Exoskeletons for People With Low-Back Pain: A Focus Group Study

Saskia J. Baltrusch, Han Houdijk, Jaap H. van Dieen, Coen A. M. van Bennekom, Anja J. T. C. M. de Kruif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: The objective of this study was to identify criteria to be considered when developing an exoskeleton for low-back pain patients by exploring the perceptions and expectations of potential end users. Background: Psychosocial, psychological, physical load, and personality influence incidence of low-back pain. Body-worn assistive devices that passively support the user’s trunk, that is exoskeletons, can decrease mechanical loading and potentially reduce low-back pain. A user-centered approach improves patient safety and health outcomes, increases user satisfaction, and ensures usability. Still, previous studies have not taken psychological factors and the early involvement of end users into account. Method: We conducted focus group studies with low-back pain patients (n = 4) and health care professionals (n = 8). Focus group sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed, using the general inductive approach. The focus group discussions included trying out an available exoskeleton. Questions were designed to elicit opinions about exoskeletons, desired design specifications, and usability. Results: Important design characteristics were comfort, individual adjustability, independency in taking it on and off, and gradual adjustment of support. Patients raised concerns over loss of muscle strength. Health care professionals mentioned the risk of confirming disability of the user and increasing guarded movement in patients. Conclusion: The focus groups showed that implementation of a trunk exoskeleton to reduce low-back pain requires an adequate implementation strategy, including supervision and behavioral coaching. Application: For health care professionals, the optimal field of application, prevention or rehabilitation, is still under debate. Patients see potential in an exoskeleton to overcome their limitations and expect it to improve their quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-376
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Cite this