Qualitative dynamics of disordered human locomotion: a preliminary investigation

J Mot Behav. 1989 Dec;21(4):373-91. doi: 10.1080/00222895.1989.10735490.


A qualitative approach to the evaluation of disordered locomotion is introduced within the framework of dynamical systems theory. Exemplar phase plane and angle-angle plots of knee and ankle movements were constructed from limb trajectories of neurologically impaired individuals and qualitatively compared with similar plots, reflecting normal locomotion. In phase plane trajectories of normal locomotion, characteristics of spring-like dynamics dominated the loading and unloading phases whereas those of ballistic pendular dynamics were seen during swing. The overall squareness of the normal phase plane trajectories suggested precisely timed and narrowly focused controls. in contrast, phase plane records from hemiparetic subjects had markedly reduced segmental velocities, pronounced velocity reversals in both stance and swing, and a loss of overall squareness. Knee-ankle plots of normal locomotion revealed important features of intersegmental coordination such as coupled out-of-phase coordination in loading and unloading, a decoupled phase offset in early swing, and a kind of active partitioning in late swing in which one segment moved while the other remained constant. These intersegmental relations were absent or distorted in the hemiparetic angle-angle plots. It is suggested that this qualitative approach, together with electromyography and force dynamics, may allow the characterization of the movement disorders associated with given neuropathologies.