Mind your step: Target walking task reveals gait disturbance in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury

Freschta Mohammadzada, Carl Moritz Zipser, Chris A Easthope, David M Halliday, Bernard A Conway, Armin Curt, Martin Schubert

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BACKGROUND: Walking over obstacles requires precise foot placement while maintaining balance control of the center of mass (CoM) and the flexibility to adapt the gait patterns. Most individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI) are capable of overground walking on level ground; however, gait stability and adaptation may be compromised. CoM control was investigated during a challenging target walking (TW) task in individuals with iSCI compared to healthy controls. The hypothesis was that individuals with iSCI, when challenged with TW, show a lack of gait pattern adaptability which is reflected by an impaired adaptation of CoM movement compared to healthy controls.

METHODS: A single-center controlled diagnostic clinical trial with thirteen participants with iSCI (0.3-24 years post injury; one subacute and twelve chronic) and twelve healthy controls was conducted where foot and pelvis kinematics were acquired during two conditions: normal treadmill walking (NW) and visually guided target walking (TW) with handrail support, during which participants stepped onto projected virtual targets synchronized with the moving treadmill surface. Approximated CoM was calculated from pelvis markers and used to calculate CoM trajectory length and mean CoM Euclidean distance TW-NW (primary outcome). Nonparametric statistics, including spearman rank correlations, were performed to evaluate the relationship between clinical parameter, outdoor mobility score, performance, and CoM parameters (secondary outcome).

RESULTS: Healthy controls adapted to TW by decreasing anterior-posterior and vertical CoM trajectory length (p < 0.001), whereas participants with iSCI reduced CoM trajectory length only in the vertical direction (p = 0.002). Mean CoM Euclidean distance TW-NW correlated with participants' neurological level of injury (R = 0.76, p = 0.002) and CoM trajectory length (during TW) correlated with outdoor mobility score (R = - 0.64, p = 0.026).

CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrated that reduction of CoM movement is a common strategy to cope with TW challenge in controls, but it is impaired in individuals with iSCI. In the iSCI group, the ability to cope with gait challenges worsened the more rostral the level of injury. Thus, the TW task could be used as a gait challenge paradigm in ambulatory iSCI individuals. Trial registration Registry number/ ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03343132, date of registration 2017/11/17.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2022

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© 2022. The Author(s).

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