Spinal cord injury (SCI) can lead to changes in muscle activation patterns and atrophy of affected muscles. Moderate levels of SCI are typically associated with foot drag during the swing phase of locomotion. Foot drag is often used to assess locomotor recovery, but the causes remain unclear. We hypothesized that foot drag results from inappropriate muscle coordination preventing flexion at the stance-to-swing transition. To test this hypothesis and to assess the relative contributions of neural and muscular changes on foot drag, we developed a two-dimensional, one degree of freedom ankle musculoskeletal model with gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior muscles. Anatomical data collected from sham-injured and incomplete SCI (iSCI) female Long-Evans rats as well as physiological data from the literature were used to implement an open-loop muscle dynamics model. Muscle insertion point motion was calculated with imposed ankle trajectories from kinematic analysis of treadmill walking in sham-injured and iSCI animals. Relative gastrocnemius deactivation and tibialis anterior activation onset times were varied within physiologically relevant ranges based on simplified locomotor electromyogram profiles. No-atrophy and moderate muscle atrophy as well as normal and injured muscle activation profiles were also simulated. Positive moments coinciding with the transition from stance to swing phase were defined as foot swing and negative moments as foot drag. Whereas decreases in activation delay caused by delayed gastrocnemius deactivation promote foot drag, all other changes associated with iSCI facilitate foot swing. Our results suggest that even small changes in the ability to precisely deactivate the gastrocnemius could result in foot drag after iSCI.
Keywords: ankle; computational model; foot drag; rat; spinal cord injury.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.