Motor adaptation, or alteration of neural control in response to a perturbation, is a potential mechanism to facilitate motor learning for rehabilitation. Central nervous system deficits are known to affect locomotor adaptation; yet we demonstrated that similar to adults following stroke, children with unilateral brain injuries can adapt step length in response to unilateral leg weighting. Here, we extend our analysis to explore kinematic strategies underlying step length adaptation and utilize dynamical systems approaches to elucidate how neural control may differ in those with hemiplegic CP across legs and compared to typically developing controls. Ten participants with hemiplegic CP and ten age-matched controls participated in this study. Knee and hip joint kinematics were analyzed during unilateral weighting of each leg in treadmill walking to assess adaptation and presence and persistence of after-effects. Peak joint angle displacement was used to represent changes in joint angles during walking. We examined baseline and task-specific variability and local dynamic stability to evaluate neuromuscular control across groups and legs. In contrast to controls, children with unilateral CP had asymmetries in joint angle variability and local dynamic stability at baseline, showing increased variability and reduced stability in the dominant limb. Kinematic variability increased and local stability decreased during weighting of ipsilateral and contralateral limbs in both groups compared to baseline. After weight removal both measures returned to baseline. Analogous to the temporal-spatial results, children with unilateral CP demonstrated similar capability as controls to adapt kinematics to unilateral leg weighting, however, the group with CP differed across sides after weight removal with dominant limb after-effects fading more quickly than in controls. The change in kinematics did not completely return to baseline in the non-dominant limb of the CP group, producing a transient improvement in joint angle symmetry. Recent studies demonstrate that neural control of gait is multi-layered with distinct circuits for different types of walking and for each leg. Remarkably, our results demonstrate that children with unilateral brain injury retain these separate circuits for each leg during walking and, importantly, that those networks can be adapted independently from one another to improve symmetry in the short term.
Keywords: after-effects; brain injury; knee angle; local dynamic stability; neural circuits; neurorehabilitation.