Background: Recently developed controllers for robot-assisted gait training allow for the adjustment of assistance for specific subtasks (i.e. specific joints and intervals of the gait cycle that are related to common impairments after stroke). However, not much is known about possible interactions between subtasks and a better understanding of this can help to optimize (manual or automatic) assistance tuning in the future. In this study, we assessed the effect of separately assisting three commonly impaired subtasks after stroke: foot clearance (FC, knee flexion/extension during swing), stability during stance (SS, knee flexion/extension during stance) and weight shift (WS, lateral pelvis movement). For each of the assisted subtasks, we determined the influence on the performance of the respective subtask, and possible effects on other subtasks of walking and spatiotemporal gait parameters. Methods: The robotic assistance for the FC, SS and WS subtasks was assessed in nine mildly impaired chronic stroke survivors while walking in the LOPES II gait trainer. Seven trials were performed for each participant in a randomized order: six trials in which either 20% or 80% of assistance was provided for each of the selected subtasks, and one baseline trial where the participant did not receive subtask-specific assistance. The influence of the assistance on performances (errors compared to reference trajectories) for the assisted subtasks and other subtasks of walking as well as spatiotemporal parameters (step length, width and height, swing and stance time) was analyzed. Results: Performances for the impaired subtasks (FC, SS and WS) improved significantly when assistance was applied for the respective subtask. Although WS performance improved when assisting this subtask, participants were not shifting their weight well towards the paretic leg. On a group level, not many effects on other subtasks and spatiotemporal parameters were found. Still, performance for the leading limb angle subtask improved significantly resulting in a larger step length when applying FC assistance. Conclusion: FC and SS assistance leads to clear improvements in performance for the respective subtask, while our WS assistance needs further improvement. As effects of the assistance were mainly confined to the assisted subtasks, tuning of FC, SS and WS can be done simultaneously. Our findings suggest that there may be no need for specific, time-intensive tuning protocols (e.g. tuning subtasks after each other) in mildly impaired stroke survivors.
- Robotic gait training
- Subtask-based assistance