Forward propulsion is a central task of walking that depends on the generation of appropriate anterior-posterior ground reaction forces (AP GRFs). The AP impulse (i.e., time integral of the AP GRF) generated by the paretic leg relative to the non-paretic leg is a quantitative measure of the paretic leg's contribution to forward propulsion and is variable across hemiparetic subjects. The purpose of this study was to investigate the underlying mechanisms of propulsion generation in hemiparetic walking by identifying the biomechanical predictors of AP impulses. Three-dimensional kinematics and GRFs were recorded from 51 hemiparetic and 21 age-matched control subjects walking at similar speeds on an instrumented treadmill. Hierarchical regression models were generated for each leg to predict the AP impulse from independent biomechanical variables. Leg extension was a significant predictor and positively related to the propulsive impulse in the paretic, non-paretic and control legs. Secondarily, the hip flexor moment impulse was negatively related to the propulsive impulse. Also, the relationship of paretic and non-paretic ankle moments with the propulsive impulse depended on the paretic step ratio, suggesting the plantar flexor contribution to the propulsive impulse depends on leg angle. These results suggest that increasing paretic leg extension will increase propulsion. Increasing paretic plantar flexor output and decreasing paretic hip flexor output could also increase paretic leg propulsion. While increased pre-swing hip flexor output has been suggested to compensate for decreased plantar flexor output, such output may further impair propulsion by the paretic leg if it occurs too soon in the gait cycle.
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