A Progressive-Individualized Midstance Gait Perturbation Protocol for Reactive Balance Assessment in Stroke Survivors

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Journal of Biomechanics


Restoration of balance control is a primary focus of rehabilitation after a stroke. The study developed a gait perturbation, treadmill-based, balance assessment protocol and demonstrated that it can be used to quantify improvements in reactive balance responses among individuals post-stroke. The protocol consists of a sequence of fifteen 90-second treadmill walking trials, with a single perturbation applied during the middle third of each trial. Gait was perturbed by rapid acceleration-deceleration of the treadmill belt at mid-stance of the unaffected leg during a randomly selected gait cycle. The initial perturbation magnitude was based on the participant's maximum walking speed and increased or decreased in each trial, based on success or failure of recovery, as determined from an instrumented harness. The protocol was used before and after a 10-week period of therapy in twenty-four stroke survivors. Outcomes included maximum recoverable perturbation (MRP), self-selected gait speed, levels progressed through the algorithm, and falls versus recoveries.Participants were able to take recovery steps in response to the perturbation. Twelve participants completed the full assessment protocol before and after the therapeutic intervention. After the intervention, they had fewer falls and more recoveries (p < 0.001), progressed through more algorithm levels (p = 0.043), had a higher MRP (p = 0.005), and had higher gait speeds. The protocol was found to be feasible in stroke survivors with moderate gait deficits. The data supports the conclusion that this protocol can be used in clinical research to quantify improvements in balance during walking.