Defective muscle coordination for balance recovery may contribute to stroke survivors' propensity for falling. Thus, we investigated deficits in muscle coordination for postural control and their association to body sway following balance perturbations in people with stroke. Specifically, we compared the automatic postural responses of 8 leg and trunk muscles recorded bilaterally in unimpaired individuals and those with mild to moderate impairments after unilateral supratentorial lesions (>6 months). These responses were elicited by unexpected floor translations in 12 directions. We extracted motor modules (ie, muscle synergies) for each leg using nonnegative matrix factorization. We also determined the magnitude of perturbation-induced body sway using a single-link inverted pendulum model. Whereas the number of motor modules for balance was not affected by stroke, those formed by muscles with long latency responses were replaced by atypically structured paretic motor modules (atypical muscle groupings), which hints at direct cerebral involvement in long-latency feedback responses. Other paretic motor modules had intact structure but were poorly recruited, which is indicative of indirect cerebral control of balance. Importantly, these paretic deficits were strongly associated with postural instability in the preferred activation direction of the impaired motor modules. Finally, these deficiencies were heterogeneously distributed across stroke survivors with lesions in distinct locations, suggesting that different cerebral substrates may contribute to balance control. In conclusion, muscle coordination deficits in the paretic limb of stroke survivors result in direction-specific postural instability, which highlights the importance of targeted interventions to address patient-specific balance impairments.
Keywords: balance impairment; hemiparesis; muscle activity; muscle synergies.