EC Kuska, KM Steele (2024) “Does crouch alter the effects of neuromuscular impairments on gait? A simulation study”

Journal Article in Journal of Biomechanics

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurologic injury that impacts control of movement. Individuals with CP also often develop secondary impairments like weakness and contracture. Both altered motor control and secondary impairments influence how an individual walks after neurologic injury. However, understanding the complex interactions between and relative effects of these impairments makes analyzing and improving walking capacity in CP challenging.

A sagittal-plane musculoskeletal model and neuromuscular simulation framework that tracked average nondisabled (ND) kinematics and moderate and severe crouch gait. The model contains nine degrees-of-freedom (pelvic tilt and translation, and right and left hip, knee, and ankle flexion) actuated by eight Hill-type musculotendinous units per leg. The objective function minimized deviations from tracked kinematics and the sum of muscle activations squared (a2). We perturbed each gait simulation with multi-modal neuromuscular impairments—altered control, weakness, and contracture—of varying severities. Altered control was simulated by reducing the number of fixed synergies controlling each leg, and weakness and contracture were simulated by reducing a muscle’s maximum isometric force ( ) and tendon slack length ( ), respectively. A Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) model then predicted resultant a2 from the simulated neuromuscular impairments for crouch and ND gait to evaluate the relative effects of each simulated neuromuscular impairment on the muscle activations required to maintain each gait pattern.Aim: The purpose of this study was to investigate the interactions between neuromuscular impairments and gait in CP.

Methods: We used a sagittal-plane musculoskeletal model and neuromuscular control framework to simulate crouch and nondisabled gait. We perturbed each simulation by varying the number of synergies controlling each leg (altered control), and imposed weakness and contracture. A Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) model was also used to parse the relative effects of each impairment on the muscle activations required for each gait pattern.

Results: By using these simulations to evaluate gait-pattern specific effects of neuromuscular impairments, we identified some advantages of crouch gait. For example, crouch tolerated 13 % and 22 % more plantarflexor weakness than nondisabled gait without and with altered control, respectively. Furthermore, BART demonstrated that plantarflexor weakness had twice the effect on total muscle activity required during nondisabled gait than crouch gait. However, crouch gait was also disadvantageous in the presence of vasti weakness: crouch gait increased the effects of vasti weakness on gait without and with altered control.

Interpretation: These simulations highlight gait-pattern specific effects and interactions between neuromuscular impairments. Utilizing computational techniques to understand these effects can elicit advantages of gait deviations, providing insight into why individuals may select their gait pattern and possible interventions to improve energetics.

AM Spomer, BC Conner, MH Schwartz, ZF Lerner, KM Steele (2023) “Audiovisual biofeedback amplifies plantarflexor adaptation during walking among children with cerebral palsy”

Journal Article in Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

Biofeedback is a promising noninvasive strategy to enhance gait training among individuals with cerebral palsy (CP). Commonly, biofeedback systems are designed to guide movement correction using audio, visual, or sensorimotor (i.e., tactile or proprioceptive) cues, each of which has demonstrated measurable success in CP.

Figure 1. Experimental Protocol. Audiovisual (AV) biofeedback on soleus activity was provided for the more-affected limb alongside an auto-adjusting target score. Sensorimotor (SM) biofeedback was provided for the more-affected limb using an untethered ankle exoskeleton designed to impart a resistive ankle torque through stance, proportional to baseline values. Participants completed three data collection visits (pre-acclimation, post-acclimation, and follow-up), during which they walked with both biofeedback systems independently and in combination. Trials were pseudo-randomized within and between visits to ensure that feedback modalities were presented to each participant in a different order and control for fatigue and learning effects. Each trial was 10 min long and separated into baseline, feedback, and washout phases. All data analysis was performed for early (strides 1–30), mid (strides 91–110), and late (strides 181–210) feedback phases and washout (strides 1–30). Mean soleus activity for individual strides (purple dots) was normalized to baseline activity. Between the pre-acclimation and post-acclimation visits, participants completed four, 20-min acclimation sessions where they received additional practice with both systems

Aim: The aim of this study is to evaluate how the modality of biofeedback may influence user response which has significant implications if systems are to be consistently adopted into clinical care.

Method: In this study, we evaluated the extent to which adolescents with CP (7M/1F; 14 [12.5,15.5] years) adapted their gait patterns during treadmill walking (6 min/modality) with audiovisual (AV), sensorimotor (SM), and combined AV + SM biofeedback before and after four acclimation sessions (20 min/session) and at a two-week follow-up. Both biofeedback systems were designed to target plantarflexor activity on the more-affected limb, as these muscles are commonly impaired in CP and impact walking function. SM biofeedback was administered using a resistive ankle exoskeleton and AV biofeedback displayed soleus activity from electromyography recordings during gait. At every visit, we measured the time-course response to each biofeedback modality to understand how the rate and magnitude of gait adaptation differed between modalities and following acclimation.

Results: Participants significantly increased soleus activity from baseline using AV + SM (42.8% [15.1, 59.6]), AV (28.5% [19.2, 58.5]), and SM (10.3% [3.2, 15.2]) biofeedback, but the rate of soleus adaptation was faster using AV + SM biofeedback than either modality alone. Further, SM-only biofeedback produced small initial increases in plantarflexor activity, but these responses were transient within and across sessions (p > 0.11). Following multi-session acclimation and at the two-week follow-up, responses to AV and AV + SM biofeedback were maintained.

Interpretation: This study demonstrated that AV biofeedback was critical to increase plantarflexor engagement during walking, but that combining AV and SM modalities further amplified the rate of gait adaptation. Beyond improving our understanding of how individuals may differentially prioritize distinct forms of afferent information, outcomes from this study may inform the design and selection of biofeedback systems for use in clinical care.

SWE 2023

Tori and Charlotte are standing with a large sign that says "Heart LA"

Congratulations to Charlotte Caskey and Victoria (Tori) Landrum for presenting as finalists in the Collegiate Poster Competition at the Society of Women Engineer’s Annual Conference in LA this weekend.

Tori placed 3rd in the undergraduate student division for her poster titled “Spinal Stimulation Improves Spasticity and Motor Control in Children with Cerebral Palsy”. Charlotte placed 1st in the graduate student division for her work titled “Machine Learning for Quantifying Rehabilitation Response in Children with Cerebral Palsy.

Congratulations, Charlotte and Tori!

ASB 2023 Recap

Charlotte is wearing a striped dress and black blazer standing in front of her poster at ASB.Four members of our lab – Kat, Elijah, Charlotte, & Mackenzie – attended ASB 2023 on August 8-11 in Knoxville, TN.

Elijah Kuska gave a podium presentation on “The effects of weakness, contracture, and altered control on walking energetics during crouch gait.”

Charlotte Caskey gave a poster presentation on “The effect of increased sensory feedback from neuromodulation and exoskeleton use on ankle co-contraction in children with cerebral palsy.”

Kat Steele co-hosted a workshop on “Writing a Successful NIH R01 Proposal.”

ASB 2024 will be hosted August 5-8, in Madison, WI.



Elijah is wearing a striped polo shirt and giving a presentation in front of a group of people at ASB.

BR Shuman, M Goudriaan, K Desloovere, MH Schwartz, KM Steele (2019) “Muscle synergies demonstrate only minimal changes after treatment in cerebral palsy.” Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

Journal Article in Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation:

In collaboration with University Hospital Pellenberg we examined whether muscle synergies change following common treatments in CP.

Background: Children with cerebral palsy (CP) have altered synergies compared to typically-developing peers, reflecting different neuromuscular control strategies used to move. While these children receive a variety of treatments to improve gait, whether synergies change after treatment, or are associated with treatment outcomes, remains unknown.

Methods: We evaluated synergies for 147 children with CP before and after three common treatments: botulinum toxin type-A injection (n = 52), selective dorsal rhizotomy (n = 38), and multi-level orthopaedic surgery (n = 57). Changes in synergy complexity were measured by the number of synergies required to explain > 90% of the total variance in electromyography data and total variance accounted for by one synergy. Synergy weights and activations before and after treatment were compared using the cosine similarity relative to average synergies of 31 typically-developing (TD) peers.

Results: There were minimal changes in synergies after treatment despite changes in walking patterns. Number of synergies did not change significantly for any treatment group. Total variance accounted for by one synergy increased (i.e., moved further from TD peers) after botulinum toxin type-A injection (1.3%) and selective dorsal rhizotomy (1.9%), but the change was small. Synergy weights did not change for any treatment group (average 0.001 ± 0.10), but synergy activations after selective dorsal rhizotomy did change and were less similar to TD peers (− 0.03 ± 0.07). Only changes in synergy activations were associated with changes in gait kinematics or walking speed after treatment. Children with synergy activations more similar to TD peers after treatment had greater improvements in gait.

Conclusions: While many of these children received significant surgical procedures and prolonged rehabilitation, the minimal changes in synergies after treatment highlight the challenges in altering neuromuscular control in CP. Development of treatment strategies that directly target impaired control or are optimized to an individual’s unique control may be required to improve walking function.