Manual physical balance assistance of therapists during gait training of stroke survivors: characteristics and predicting the timing

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2017 Dec 2;14(1):125. doi: 10.1186/s12984-017-0337-8.


Background: During gait training, physical therapists continuously supervise stroke survivors and provide physical support to their pelvis when they judge that the patient is unable to keep his balance. This paper is the first in providing quantitative data about the corrective forces that therapists use during gait training. It is assumed that changes in the acceleration of a patient's COM are a good predictor for therapeutic balance assistance during the training sessions Therefore, this paper provides a method that predicts the timing of therapeutic balance assistance, based on acceleration data of the sacrum.

Methods: Eight sub-acute stroke survivors and seven therapists were included in this study. Patients were asked to perform straight line walking as well as slalom walking in a conventional training setting. Acceleration of the sacrum was captured by an Inertial Magnetic Measurement Unit. Balance-assisting corrective forces applied by the therapist were collected from two force sensors positioned on both sides of the patient's hips. Measures to characterize the therapeutic balance assistance were the amount of force, duration, impulse and the anatomical plane in which the assistance took place. Based on the acceleration data of the sacrum, an algorithm was developed to predict therapeutic balance assistance. To validate the developed algorithm, the predicted events of balance assistance by the algorithm were compared with the actual provided therapeutic assistance.

Results: The algorithm was able to predict the actual therapeutic assistance with a Positive Predictive Value of 87% and a True Positive Rate of 81%. Assistance mainly took place over the medio-lateral axis and corrective forces of about 2% of the patient's body weight (15.9 N (11), median (IQR)) were provided by therapists in this plane. Median duration of balance assistance was 1.1 s (0.6) (median (IQR)) and median impulse was 9.4Ns (8.2) (median (IQR)). Although therapists were specifically instructed to aim for the force sensors on the iliac crest, a different contact location was reported in 22% of the corrections.

Conclusions: This paper presents insights into the behavior of therapists regarding their manual physical assistance during gait training. A quantitative dataset was presented, representing therapeutic balance-assisting force characteristics. Furthermore, an algorithm was developed that predicts events at which therapeutic balance assistance was provided. Prediction scores remain high when different therapists and patients were analyzed with the same algorithm settings. Both the quantitative dataset and the developed algorithm can serve as technical input in the development of (robot-controlled) balance supportive devices.

Keywords: Algorithm development; Balance-assisting characteristics; Behavior prediction; Correction forces; Gait training; Stroke rehabilitation; Technical requirements.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Female
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / rehabilitation*
  • Gait*
  • Hip / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Postural Balance*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sacrum / physiology
  • Stroke Rehabilitation / methods*
  • Survivors
  • Walking

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