Assessing the effects of gait asymmetry: Using a split-belt treadmill walking protocol to change step length and peak knee joint contact force symmetry

J Biomech. 2021 Aug 26;125:110583. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2021.110583. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Asymmetrical gait may affect important outcomes such as knee joint contact force (KJCF). A split-belt treadmill (SBTM) can be used to provoke changes in step length symmetry (SLsym) and may produce a similar response in KJCF symmetry (KJCFsym) between limbs. The purpose of this study was to explore the utility of employing a SBTM walking paradigm to alter KJCF and KJCFsym and to determine if changes in SLsym coincided with changes in KJCFsym. Twenty healthy individuals performed a standardized SBTM protocol, where baseline and post-adaptation conditions had tied belt speeds of 0.5 m/s and the split-adaptation condition used a 3:1 belt speed ratio. OpenSim techniques were used to produce normalized, averaged stance phase peak KJCF during baseline walking, early- and late-adaptation, and post-adaptation. SLsym and KJCFsym values were determined. Comparisons were made for symmetry values between early- and late-adaptation and between baseline and post-adaptation. SLsym and KJCFsym did not respond in the same manner during the walking conditions. While step lengths (SL) were asymmetric during early adaptation but become more symmetric by late adaptation (p < 0.01), KJCF was symmetric throughout adaptation. Conversely, SL and KJCF exhibited similar responses during the baseline and post-adaptation conditions, with symmetry at baseline and asymmetry during post-adaptation (p < 0.01). In the post-adaptation condition, higher peak forces were demonstrated on the limb taking a shorter step. Results suggest a SBTM program may alter KJCF and KJCFsym between limbs. Furthermore, a comparison between baseline and post-adaptation may be more appropriate for evaluating the relationship between SL and KJCF.

Keywords: Gait adaptation; Gait symmetry; Knee joint load; Split-belt treadmill; Step length asymmetry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint
  • Walking*