Effects of repeated waist-pull perturbations on gait stability in subjects with cerebellar ataxia

Aprigliano, Federica; Martelli, Dario; Kang, Jiyeon; Kuo, Sheng-Han; Kang, Un J.; Monaco, Vito; Micera, Silvestro; Agrawal, Sunil K.

Damage to the cerebellum can affect neural structures involved in locomotion, causing gait and balance disorders. However, the integrity of cerebellum does not seem to be critical in managing sudden and unexpected environmental changes such as disturbances during walking. The cerebellum also plays a functional role in motor learning. Only a few effective therapies exist for individuals with cerebellar ataxia. With these in mind, we aimed at investigating: (1) corrective response of participants with cerebellar ataxia (CA) to unexpected gait perturbations; and (2) the effectiveness of a perturbation-based training to improve their dynamic stability during balance recovery responses and steady walking. Specifically, we hypothesized that: (1) CA group can show a corrective behavior similar to that of a healthy control group; (2) the exposure to a perturbation-based treatment can exploit residual learning capability, thus improving their dynamic stability during balance recovery responses and steady locomotion.

Ten participants with cerebellar ataxia and eight age-matched healthy adults were exposed to a single perturbation-based training session. The Active Tethered Pelvic Assist Device applied unexpected waist-pull perturbations while participants walked on a treadmill. Spatio-temporal parameters and dynamic stability were determined during corrective responses and steady locomotion, before and after the training. The ANalysis Of VAriance was the main statistical test used to assess the effects of group (healthy vs CA) and training (baseline vs post) on spatio-temporal parameters of the gait and margin of stability.

Data analysis revealed that individuals with cerebellar ataxia behaved differently from healthy volunteers: (1) they retained a wider base of support during corrective responses and steady gait both before and after the training; (2) due to the training, patients improved their anterior-posterior margin of stability during steady walking only.

Our results revealed that participants with cerebellar ataxia could still rely on their learning capability to modify the gait towards a safer behavior. However, they could not take advantage from their residual learning capability while managing sudden and unexpected perturbations. Accordingly, the proposed training paradigm can be considered as a promising approach to improve balance control during steady walking in these individuals.


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Also Published In

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

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Published Here
December 20, 2022


Gait perturbations, Cerebellar ataxia, Balance recovery, Perturbation-based training