Clinical measures of balance and gait cannot differentiate somatosensory impairments in people with lower-limb amputation

Gait Posture. 2023 Jan:99:104-110. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2022.10.018. Epub 2022 Oct 27.


Background: In addition to a range of functional impairments seen in individuals with a lower-limb amputation, this population is at a substantially elevated risk of falls. Studies postulate that the lack of sensory feedback from the prosthetic limb contributes heavily to these impairments, but the extent to which sensation affects functional measures remains unclear.

Research question: The purpose of this study is to determine how sensory impairments in the lower extremities relate to performance with common clinical functional measures of balance and gait in individuals with a lower-limb amputation. Here we evaluate the effects of somatosensory integrity to clinical and lab measures of static, reactive and dynamic balance, and gait stability.

Methods: In 20 individuals with lower-limb amputation (AMP) and 20 age and gender-matched able-bodied controls (CON), we evaluated the effects of sensory integrity (pressure, proprioception, and vibration) on measures of balance and gait. Static, reactive, and dynamic balance were assessed using the Sensory Organization Test (SOT), Motor Control Test (MCT), and Functional Gait Assessment (FGA), respectively. Gait stability was assessed through measures of step length asymmetry and step width variability. Sensation was categorized into intact or impaired sensation by pressure thresholds and differences across groups were analyzed.

Results: There were significant differences between AMP and CON groups for reliance on vision for static balance in the SOT, MCT, and FGA (p < 0.01). Despite differences across groups, there were no significant differences within the AMP group based on intact or impaired sensation across all functional measures.

Significance: Despite being able to detect differences between able-bodied individuals and individuals with an amputation, these functional measures cannot distinguish between levels of impairment within participants with an amputation. These findings suggest that more challenging and robust metrics are needed to evaluate the effects of sensation and function in individuals with an amputation.

Keywords: Amputation; Balance; Gait; Sensation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amputation, Surgical
  • Artificial Limbs*
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Hypesthesia
  • Postural Balance*