Background: Gait and balance disorders are common among individuals who have experienced a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, little is known about how the neuromuscular control of gait is altered following a TBI.
Research question: Investigate the relationship between lower limb muscle activation patterns and chronic gait deficits in individuals who previously experienced a mild to moderate TBI.
Methods: Lower extremity electromyographic (EMG) signals were collected bilaterally during treadmill and overground walking in 44 ambulatory individuals with a TBI >1 year prior and 20 unimpaired controls. Activation patterns of TBI muscles were cross-correlated with normative data from control subjects to assess temporal phasing of muscle recruitment. Clinical assessments of gait and balance were performed using dynamic posturography, the dynamic gait index, six-minute walk test, and preferred walking speed.
Results: TBI subjects exhibited abnormal activation patterns in the tibialis anterior, medial gastrocnemius, and rectus femoris muscles during both overground and treadmill walking. Activation patterns of the vastus lateralis and soleus muscles did not differ from normal. There was considerable heterogeneity in performance on clinical balance and gait assessments. Abnormal muscle activation patterns were significantly correlated with variations in the dynamic gait index among the TBI subjects.
Significance: Individuals who have experienced a prior TBI do exhibit characteristic changes in the temporal coordination of select lower extremity muscles, which may contribute to impairments during challenging walking tasks.
Keywords: Balance; EMG; Muscle coordination; Temporal activation patterns; Walking.
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