Gait recovery is not associated with changes in the temporal patterning of muscle activity during treadmill walking in patients with post-stroke hemiparesis

A R Den Otter, A C H Geurts, Th Mulder, J Duysens
Clinical Neurophysiology: Official Journal of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology 2006, 117 (1): 4-15

OBJECTIVE: To establish whether functional recovery of gait in patients with post-stroke hemiparesis coincides with changes in the temporal patterning of lower extremity muscle activity and coactivity during treadmill walking.

METHODS: Electromyographic (EMG) data from both legs, maximum walking speed, the amount of swing phase asymmetry and clinical measures were obtained from a group of post-acute patients with hemiparesis, as early as possible after admission in a rehabilitation centre (mean time post-stroke 35 days) and 1, 3, 6, and 10 weeks later, while all patients participated in a regular rehabilitation program. EMG data from the first assessment were compared to those obtained from a group of healthy controls to identify abnormalities in the temporal patterning of muscle activity. Within subject comparisons of patient data were made over time to investigate whether functional gait recovery was accompanied by changes in the temporal patterns muscle (co-)activity.

RESULTS: EMG patterns during the first assessment showed a number of abnormalities on the paretic side, namely abnormally long durations of activity in biceps femoris (BF) during the single support (SS) phase and in gastrocnemius medialis (GM) during the first double support phase (DS1). Furthermore, in both legs a prolongation of the activity was seen in the rectus femoris (RF) during the SS phase. In addition, the duration of BF-RF coactivation was longer on the paretic side than it was in controls. Over time, the level of ambulatory independence, body mobility, and maximum walking speed increased significantly, indicating that substantial improvements in gait ability occurred. Despite these improvements, durations of muscle (co-) activity and the level of swing phase asymmetry did not change during rehabilitation. More specifically, timing abnormalities in muscle (co-)activity that were found during the first assessment did not change significantly, indicating that these aberrations were not an impediment for functional gait improvements.

CONCLUSIONS: Normalization of the temporal patterning of gait related muscle activity in the lower extremities is not a prerequisite for functional recovery of gait in patients with post-stroke hemiparesis. Apparently, physiological processes other than improved temporal muscular coordination must be important determinants of the restoration of ambulatory capacity after stroke.

SIGNIFICANCE: Recovery of walking ability in post-stroke hemiparesis is not necessarily associated with, or dependent on, reorganization in the temporal control of gait related muscle activity. Normalization of the temporal coordination of muscle activity during gait may not be an important clinical goal during post-acute rehabilitation.

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