Objective: Current rehabilitation to improve gait symmetry following stroke is based on one of two competing motor learning strategies: minimizing or augmenting symmetry errors. We sought to determine which of those motor learning strategies best improves overground spatiotemporal gait symmetry.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Rehabilitation research lab.
Subjects: In all, 47 participants (59 ± 12 years old) with chronic hemiparesis post stroke and spatiotemporal gait asymmetry were randomized to error augmentation, error minimization, or conventional treadmill training (control) groups.
Interventions: To augment or minimize asymmetry on a step-by-step basis, we developed a responsive, "closed-loop" control system, using a split-belt instrumented treadmill that continuously adjusted the difference in belt speeds to be proportional to the patient's current asymmetry.
Main measures: Overground spatiotemporal asymmetries and gait speeds were collected prior to and following 18 training sessions.
Results: Step length asymmetry reduced after training, but stance time did not. There was no group × time interaction. Gait speed improved after training, but was not affected by type of asymmetry, or group. Of those who trained to modify step length asymmetry, there was a moderately strong linear relationship between the change in step length asymmetry and the change in gait speed.
Conclusion: Augmenting errors was not superior to minimizing errors or providing only verbal feedback during conventional treadmill walking. Therefore, the use of verbal feedback to target spatiotemporal asymmetry, which was common to all participants, appears to be sufficient to reduce step length asymmetry. Alterations in stance time asymmetry were not elicited in any group.
Keywords: Gait; adaptation; asymmetry; learning; stroke.