Improving walking symmetry in people with stroke : a pilot study Ip, Alvin; Chen, Zhen; Lam, Tania
There are over 300,000 Canadians living with the effects of stroke. A stroke damages one side of the brain, resulting in motor impairments to the other half of the body. This leads to asymmetrical walking; the weaker leg is used less in propelling and supporting the body compared to the stronger leg. Improving symmetry is important because asymmetrical walking leads to impaired balance, decreased bone strength, and increased falls. However, little research has looked at improving walking symmetry. This study tests whether applying resistance against the stronger leg can improve walking symmetry in people with stroke. To increase the use of the weaker leg, we make the stronger leg harder to use. Six participants were fitted into the Lokomat, a gait therapy device with a treadmill, harness, and leg-cuffs. The Lokomat was programmed to apply resistance, equivalent to 10% of the hip and knee flexors' maximal voluntary contraction, against the stronger leg. Force-sensitive resistors and motion capture cameras were used to respectively measure single-support stance time and stride length, in order to determine the use of each leg during walking. Subjects walked consecutively for 50 strides with no resistance, 50 strides with resistance against the stronger leg, and 50 strides with resistance removed. We found that applying resistance against the stronger leg can improve walking symmetry and increase the use of the weaker leg to propel and support the body during walking. The study demonstrated the feasibility of this intervention and uncovered aspects of the design to be improved upon.
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