In individuals with post-stroke hemiparesis, reduced push-off force generation in the paretic leg negatively impacts walking function. Gait training interventions that increase paretic push-off can improve walking function in individuals with neurologic impairment. During normal locomotion, push-off forces are modulated with variations in gait speed and slope. However, it is unknown whether able-bodied individuals can selectively modulate push-off forces from one leg in response to biofeedback. Here, in a group of young, neurologically-unimpaired individuals, the authors determined the effects of a real-time visual and auditory biofeedback gait training paradigm aimed at unilaterally increasing anteriorly-directed ground reaction force (AGRF) in the targeted leg.
Ground reaction force data during were collected from 7 able-bodied individuals as they walked at a self-selected pace on a dual-belt treadmill instrumented with force platforms. During 11-min of gait training, study participants were provided real-time AGRF biofeedback encouraging a 20-30% increase in peak AGRF generated by their right (targeted) leg compared to their baseline (pre-training) AGRF. AGRF data were collected before, during, and after the biofeedback training period, as well as during two retention tests performed without biofeedback and after standing breaks.
Compared to AGRFs generated during the pre-training gait trials, participants demonstrated a significantly greater AGRF in the targeted leg during and immediately after training, indicating that biofeedback training was successful at inducing increased AGRF production in the targeted leg. Additionally, participants continued to demonstrate greater AGRF production in the targeted leg after two standing breaks, showing short-term recall of the gait pattern learned during the biofeedback training. No significant effects of training were observed on the AGRF in the non-targeted limb, showing the specificity of the effects of biofeedback toward the targeted limb.
These results demonstrate the short-term effects of using unilateral AGRF biofeedback to target propulsion in a specific leg, which may have utility as a training tool for individuals with gait deficits such as post-stroke hemiparesis. Future studies are needed to investigate the effects of real-time AGRF biofeedback as a gait training tool in neurologically-impaired individuals.