Background: Proprioception is the sense of the position and movement of our limbs, and is vital for executing coordinated movements. Proprioceptive disorders are common following stroke, but clinical tests for measuring impairments in proprioception are simple ordinal scales that are unreliable and relatively crude. We developed and validated specific kinematic parameters to quantify proprioception and compared two common metrics, Euclidean and Mahalanobis distances, to combine these parameters into an overall summary score of proprioception.
Methods: We used the KINARM robotic exoskeleton to assess proprioception of the upper limb in subjects with stroke (N = 285. Mean days post-stroke = 12 ± 15). Two aspects of proprioception (position sense and kinesthetic sense) were tested using two mirror-matching tasks without vision. The tasks produced 12 parameters to quantify position sense and eight to quantify kinesthesia. The Euclidean and Mahalanobis distances of the z-scores for these parameters were computed each for position sense, kinesthetic sense, and overall proprioceptive function (average score of position and kinesthetic sense).
Results: A high proportion of stroke subjects were impaired on position matching (57%), kinesthetic matching (65%), and overall proprioception (62%). Robotic tasks were significantly correlated with clinical measures of upper extremity proprioception, motor impairment, and overall functional independence. Composite scores derived from the Euclidean distance and Mahalanobis distance showed strong content validity as they were highly correlated (r = 0.97-0.99).
Conclusions: We have outlined a composite measure of upper extremity proprioception to provide a single continuous outcome measure of proprioceptive function for use in clinical trials of rehabilitation. Multiple aspects of proprioception including sense of position, direction, speed, and amplitude of movement were incorporated into this measure. Despite similarities in the scores obtained with these two distance metrics, the Mahalanobis distance was preferred.
Keywords: Kinesthesia; Outcome measure; Position sense; Proprioception; Robotics; Stroke; Upper extremity.