Background: In incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI), sensorimotor impairments result in severe limitations to ambulation. To improve walking capacity, physical therapies using robotic-assisted locomotor devices, such as the Lokomat, have been developed. Following locomotor training, an improvement in gait capabilities - characterized by increases in the over-ground walking speed and endurance - is generally observed in patients. To better understand the mechanisms underlying these improvements, we studied the effects of Lokomat training on impaired ankle voluntary movement, known to be an important limiting factor in gait for iSCI patients. Methods. Fifteen chronic iSCI subjects performed twelve 1-hour sessions of Lokomat training over the course of a month. The voluntary movement was qualified by measuring active range of motion, maximal velocity peak and trajectory smoothness for the spastic ankle during a movement from full plantar-flexion (PF) to full dorsi-flexion (DF) at the patient's maximum speed. Dorsi- and plantar-flexor muscle strength was quantified by isometric maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). Clinical assessments were also performed using the Timed Up and Go (TUG), the 10-meter walk (10MWT) and the 6-minute walk (6MWT) tests. All evaluations were performed both before and after the training and were compared to a control group of fifteen iSCI patients. Results: After the Lokomat training, the active range of motion, the maximal velocity, and the movement smoothness were significantly improved in the voluntary movement. Patients also exhibited an improvement in the MVC for their ankle dorsi- and plantar-flexor muscles. In terms of functional activity, we observed an enhancement in the mobility (TUG) and the over-ground gait velocity (10MWT) with training. Correlation tests indicated a significant relationship between ankle voluntary movement performance and the walking clinical assessments. Conclusions: The improvements of the kinematic and kinetic parameters of the ankle voluntary movement, and their correlation with the functional assessments, support the therapeutic effect of robotic-assisted locomotor training on motor impairment in chronic iSCI. © 2014 Varoqui et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Varoqui, D., Niu, X., & Mirbagheri, M. M. (2014). Ankle voluntary movement enhancement following robotic-assisted locomotor training in spinal cord injury. Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-0003-11-46