Background: Step length asymmetry (SLA) is a common hallmark of gait poststroke. Though conventionally viewed as a spatial deficit, SLA can result from differences in where the feet are placed relative to the body (step position strategy), the timing between foot strikes (step time strategy), or the velocity of the body relative to the feet (step velocity strategy).
Objective: The goal of this study was to characterize the relative contributions of each of these strategies to SLA.
Methods: We developed an analytical model that parses SLA into independent step position, step time, and step velocity contributions. This model was validated by reproducing SLA values for 25 healthy participants when their natural symmetric gait was perturbed on a split-belt treadmill moving at either a 2:1 or 3:1 belt-speed ratio. We then applied the validated model to quantify step position, step time, and step velocity contributions to SLA in 15 stroke survivors while walking at their self-selected speed.
Results: SLA was predicted precisely by summing the derived contributions, regardless of the belt-speed ratio. Although the contributions to SLA varied considerably across our sample of stroke survivors, the step position contribution tended to oppose the other 2-possibly as an attempt to minimize overall SLA.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that changes in where the feet are placed or changes in interlimb timing could be used as compensatory strategies to reduce overall SLA in stroke survivors. These results may allow clinicians and researchers to identify patient-specific gait abnormalities and personalize their therapeutic approaches accordingly.
Keywords: biomechanics; locomotion; motor coordination; rehabilitation; stroke.
© The Author(s) 2015.