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Effect of stiffness-optimized ankle foot orthoses on joint work in adults with neuromuscular diseases is related to severity of push-off deficits.

Gait & Posture 2024 May 4
BACKGROUND: People with plantar flexor weakness generate less ankle push-off work during walking, resulting in inefficient proximal joint compensations. To increase push-off work, spring-like ankle foot orthoses (AFOs) can be provided. However, whether and in which patients AFOs increase push-off work and reduce compensatory hip and knee work is unknown.

METHODS: In 18 people with bilateral plantar flexor weakness, we performed a 3D gait analysis at comfortable walking speed with shoes-only and with AFOs of which the stiffness was optimized. To account for walking speed differences between conditions, we compared relative joint work of the hip, knee and ankle joint. The relationships between relative work generated with shoes-only and changes in joint work with AFO were tested with Pearson correlations.

RESULTS: No differences in relative ankle, knee and hip work over the gait cycle were found between shoes-only and AFO (p>0.499). Percentage of total ankle work generated during pre-swing increased with the AFO (AFO: 85.3±9.1% vs Shoes: 72.4±27.1%, p=0.026). At the hip, the AFO reduced relative work in pre-swing (AFO: 31.9±7.4% vs Shoes: 34.1±10.4%, p=0.038) and increased in loading response (AFO: 18.0±11.0% vs Shoes: 11.9±9.8%, p=0.022). Ankle work with shoes-only was inversely correlated with an increase in ankle work with AFO (r=-0.839, p<0.001) and this increase correlated with reduction in hip work with AFO (r=-0.650, p=0.004).

DISCUSSION: Although stiffness-optimized AFOs did not alter the work distribution across the ankle, knee and hip joint compared to shoes-only walking, relative more ankle work was generated during push-off, causing a shift in hip work from pre-swing to loading response. Furthermore, larger ankle push-off deficits when walking with shoes-only were related with an increase in ankle work with AFO and reduction in compensatory hip work, indicating that more severely affected individuals benefit more from the energy storing-and-releasing capacity of AFOs.

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