Planned gait termination in cerebellar ataxias

Carmela Conte, Mariano Serrao, Carlo Casali, Alberto Ranavolo, Mari Silvia, Francesco Draicchio, Roberto Di Fabio, Stefano Monami, Luca Padua, Sergio Iavicoli, Giorgio Sandrini, Francesco Pierelli
Cerebellum 2012, 11 (4): 896-904
This study set out to characterise the pattern of planned gait termination in a sample of patients with cerebellar diseases. The gait termination phase was recorded, using a motion analysis system, in ten patients with primary degenerative cerebellar disease and in ten controls. The subjects were instructed to walk at different gait speeds and to stop in response to an acoustic signal. Time-distance parameters (step length, step width, double support duration, time-to-slow, stopping time, centre of mass velocity and number of steps) and stability index-related parameters (distance between the "extrapolated centre of mass" (XCoM) and centre of pressure (CoP)) were measured at both matched and self-selected gait speeds. At matched speed the patients, compared with the controls, showed a reduced step length, a greater first and second step width and used more steps to stop. At self-selected speed, almost all the parameters differed from those of the controls. Furthermore, the patients showed an increased stability index, suggesting that they need to maintain a "safety margin" between the XCoM and CoP during the gait termination. Patients develop a series of compensatory strategies in order to preserve balance during planned gait termination, e.g. increasing their step width and number of steps. Ataxic patients need to maintain a safety margin in order to avoid instability when stopping. Given the potential risk of falls when stopping, walking ataxic patients may benefit from a rehabilitation treatment focused on preserving and improving their ability to terminate gait safely.

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