Neurophysiology of gait disorders: present and future applications

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1997 Sep;103(3):333-55. doi: 10.1016/s0013-4694(97)00047-7.


This article will review those electrophysiological investigations which have addressed the neuronal mechanisms underlying impaired gait. The aims of the review are to provide further insights to the underlying pathophysiology of impaired gait and also towards the selection of an appropriate treatment. From the patients' point of view the first indication of a central motor system lesion is an impairment of movement, most notably locomotion. These symptoms are characteristic in cases of spasticity, cerebellar lesion or Parkinson's disease. Clinical examination reveals typical changes in tendon tap reflexes and muscle tone which were believed to account for the movement disorder presented. However, we now know that there is only a weak relationship between the physical symptoms observed during clinical examination under passive motor conditions and the altered neuronal mechanisms underlying the impairment during active motion. By recording and analysing electrophysiological and biomechanical parameters during functional movements such as locomotion, the significance of impaired reflex behaviour or the pathophysiology of muscle tone and its contribution to the movement disorder can be reliably assessed. Consequently, the treatment should not be cosmetic, i.e. the correction of an isolated clinical parameter, but should be based on the pathophysiology and significance of those mechanisms underlying the impairment of the patients' movements. Data from electrophysiological and biomechanical investigations of locomotion of patients with spasticity, cerebellar disorder or Parkinson's disease are discussed in this review. The neuronal mechanisms, which are essentially central programs and afferent input, involved in disorders of gait are evaluated on the basis of their function in healthy subjects. The impact of this analysis in deciding an appropriate treatment are discussed with respect to the pathophysiology underlying the gait disorder (spasticity, cerebellar disorder or Parkinson's disease). At the present time we have only a basic understanding of the essential receptor systems, such as leg extensor load receptors, and their interaction with other systems involved in postural control. In the future, the knowledge gained from gait analysis may help in the selection of the appropriate pharmacological and physical treatment required even though the patient may only be at an early stage of motor impairment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia / physiopathology
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Movement Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology