Recovery of walking after stroke requires an understanding of how motor control deficits lead to gait impairment. Traditional therapy focuses on removing specific observable gait behaviors that deviate from unimpaired walking; however, those behaviors may be effective compensations for underlying problematic motor control deficits rather than direct effects of the stroke. Neurological deficits caused by stroke are not well understood, and thus, efficient interventions for gait rehabilitation likely remain unrealized. Our laboratory has previously characterized a post-stroke control deficit that yields a specific difference in direction of the ground reaction force (F, limb endpoint force) exerted with the hemiplegic limb of study participants pushing on both stationary and moving pedals while seated. That task was not dependent on F to retain upright posture, and thus, the task did not constrain F direction. Rather, the F direction was the product of neural preference. It is not known if this specific muscle coordination deficit causes the observed walking deviations, but if present during walking, the deficit would prevent upright posture unless counteracted by compensatory behaviors. Compensations are presented that mechanically counteract the F misdirection to allow upright posture. Those compensations are similar to behaviors observed in stroke patients. Based on that alignment between predictions of this theory and clinical observations, we theorize that post-stroke gait results from the attempt to compensate for the underlying F misdirection deficit. Limb endpoint force direction has been shown to be trainable in the paretic upper limb, making it a feasible goal in the lower limb. If this F misdirection theory is valid, these ideas have tremendous promise for advancing the field of post-stroke gait rehabilitation.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the University of Wisconsin Graduate School and Foundation (V. H. Henry Fund). This sponsor had no role in the study or publication decisions. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.
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Boehm, W.L., Gruben, K.G. Post-Stroke Walking Behaviors Consistent with Altered Ground Reaction Force Direction Control Advise New Approaches to Research and Therapy. Transl. Stroke Res. 7, 3–11 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12975-015-0435-5