Merged plantarflexor muscle activity is predictive of poor walking performance in post-stroke hemiparetic subjects
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Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability and individuals post-stroke often experience impaired walking ability. The plantarflexor muscles (PFs) are critical to walking through their contributions to the ground reaction forces. Previous studies have shown muscle activity during walking can be grouped into co-excited muscle sets, or modules. Improper muscle co-activation, or merging of modules, is a common impairment in individuals post-stroke. The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of merged PF modules on walking performance in individuals post stroke by examining balance control, body support, propulsion and walking symmetry. Muscle modules were identified using non-negative matrix factorization to classify subjects as having an independent or merged PF module. The merged group had decreased balance control with a significantly higher frontal plane whole-body angular momentum than both the indepedent and control groups, while the independent and control groups were not significantly different. The merged group also had higher paretic braking and nonparetic propulsion than both the indepdendent and control groups. These results still held when comparisons were limited to subjects who had the same total number of modules, indicating that this was not a general effect due to subjects with merged PF having fewer modules. It is likely that a merged PF module is indicative of general PF dysfunction even when some activation occurs at the appropriate time. These results suggest an independent PF module is critical to walking performance, and thus obtaining an independent PF module should be a crucial aim of stroke rehabilitation.