Background: Virtual reality (VR) technology along with treadmill training (TT) can effectively provide goal-oriented practice and promote improved motor learning in patients with neurological disorders. Moreover, the VR + TT scheme may enhance cognitive engagement for more effective gait rehabilitation and greater transfer to over ground walking. For this purpose, we developed an individualized treadmill controller with a novel speed estimation scheme using swing foot velocity, which can enable user-driven treadmill walking (UDW) to more closely simulate over ground walking (OGW) during treadmill training. OGW involves a cyclic acceleration-deceleration profile of pelvic velocity that contrasts with typical treadmill-driven walking (TDW), which constrains a person to walk at a preset constant speed. In this study, we investigated the effects of the proposed speed adaptation controller by analyzing the gait kinematics of UDW and TDW, which were compared to those of OGW at three pre-determined velocities.
Methods: Ten healthy subjects were asked to walk in each mode (TDW, UDW, and OGW) at three pre-determined speeds (0.5 m/s, 1.0 m/s, and 1.5 m/s) with real time feedback provided through visual displays. Temporal-spatial gait data and 3D pelvic kinematics were analyzed and comparisons were made between UDW on a treadmill, TDW, and OGW.
Results: The observed step length, cadence, and walk ratio defined as the ratio of stride length to cadence were not significantly different between UDW and TDW. Additionally, the average magnitude of pelvic acceleration peak values along the anterior-posterior direction for each step and the associated standard deviations (variability) were not significantly different between the two modalities. The differences between OGW and UDW and TDW were mainly in swing time and cadence, as have been reported previously. Also, step lengths between OGW and TDW were different for 0.5 m/s and 1.5 m/s gait velocities, and walk ratio between OGS and UDW was different for 1.0 m/s gait velocities.
Conclusions: Our treadmill control scheme implements similar gait biomechanics of TDW, which has been used for repetitive gait training in a small and constrained space as well as controlled and safe environments. These results reveal that users can walk as stably during UDW as TDW and employ similar strategies to maintain walking speed in both UDW and TDW. Furthermore, since UDW can allow a user to actively participate in the virtual reality (VR) applications with variable walking velocity, it can induce more cognitive activities during the training with VR, which may enhance motor learning effects.