Understanding changes in post-stroke walking ability through simulation and experimental analyses
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Post-stroke hemiparesis usually leads to slow and asymmetric gait. Improving walking ability, specifically walking speed, is a common goal post-stroke. To develop effective post-stroke rehabilitation interventions, the underlying mechanisms that lead to changes in walking ability need to be fully understood. The overall goal of this research was to investigate the deficits that limit hemiparetic walking ability and understand the influence of post-stroke rehabilitation on walking ability in persons with post-stroke hemiparesis. Forward dynamics walking simulations of hemiparetic subjects (and speed-matched controls) with different levels of functional walking status were developed to investigate the relationships between individual muscle contributions to pre-swing forward propulsion, swing initiation and power generation subtasks and functional walking status. The analyses showed that muscle contributions to the walking subtasks are indeed related to functional walking status in the hemiparetic subjects. Increased contributions from the paretic leg muscles (i.e., plantarflexors and hip flexors) and reduced contributions from the non-paretic leg muscles (i.e., knee and hip extensors) to the walking subtasks were critical in obtaining higher functional walking status. Changes in individual muscle contributions to propulsion during rehabilitation were investigated by developing a large number of subject-specific forward dynamics simulations of hemiparetic subjects (with different levels of pre-training propulsion symmetry) walking pre- and post-locomotor training. Subjects with low paretic leg propulsion pre-training increased contributions to propulsion from both paretic leg (i.e., gastrocnemius) and non-paretic leg muscles (i.e., hamstrings) to improve walking speed during rehabilitation. Subjects with high paretic leg propulsion pre-training improved walking speed by increasing contributions to propulsion from the paretic leg ankle plantarflexors (i.e., soleus and gastrocnemius). This study revealed two primary strategies that hemiparetic subjects use to increase walking speed during rehabilitation. Experimental analyses were used to determine post-training biomechanical predictors of successful post-stroke rehabilitation, defined as performance over a 6-month follow-up period following rehabilitation. The strongest predictor of success was step length symmetry. Other potential predictors of success were identified including increased paretic leg hip flexor output in late paretic leg single-limb stance, increased paretic leg knee extensor output from mid to late paretic leg stance and increased paretic leg propulsion during pre-swing.