Objective: To investigate the effect of medially linking knee-ankle-foot orthoses (KAFOs) on postural stability and sway during (1) quiet standing and (2) functional activities for persons with spinal cord injury (SCI).
Design: A randomized, mixed design, with the factors being activity (quiet standing and two function-mimicking tasks), SCI (present or not), and type of orthosis used in SCI group (linked or unlinked KAFO).
Participants: Nine men with T5 to T12 paraplegia, 8 of whom had complete lesions and 1 with some sacral sparing (American Spinal Injury Association grade B) without proprioception, matched to 9 able-bodied men.
Main outcome measures: Mean amplitude of sway and sway path in anteroposterior and mediolateral directions, derived from center of pressure measurements on a force platform.
Results: All men with SCI were able to stand unsupported and perform function-mimicking activities in medially linked KAFOs; however, when wearing unlinked KAFOs only 5 could maintain balance during quiet stance and 3 could maintain balance during activity. Significant differences were found between linked and unlinked KAFOs; side-to-side mean amplitude of sway was less and sway path was greater for SCI subjects when they wore the linked KAFOs.
Conclusion: Medial linkage of bilateral KAFOs provides an effective strategy to improve stability and increase postural control for persons with SCI, facilitating performance of functional activities during standing without upper limb support.