Background: Joint angular velocity (the rate of flexion and extension of a joint) is related to the dynamics of muscle activation and force generation during walking. Therefore, the goal of this research was to examine the joint angular velocity in normal and spastic gait and changes resulting from muscle-tendon lengthening (recession and tenotomy) in patients who have spastic cerebral palsy.
Methods: The gait patterns of forty patients who had been diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy (mean age, 8.3 years; range, 3.7 to 14.8 years) and of seventy-three age-matched, normally developing subjects were evaluated with three-dimensional motion analysis and electromyography. The patients who had cerebral palsy were evaluated before muscle-tendon lengthening and nine months after treatment.
Results: The gait patterns of the patients who had cerebral palsy were characterized by increased flexion of the knee in the stance phase, premature plantar flexion of the ankle, and reduced joint angular velocities compared with the patterns of the normally developing subjects. Even though muscle-tendon lengthening altered sagittal joint angles in gait, the joint angular velocities were generally unchanged at the hip and knee. Only the ankle demonstrated modified angular velocities, including reduced dorsiflexion velocity at foot-strike and improved dorsiflexion velocity through mid-stance, after treatment. Electromyographic changes included reduced amplitude of the gastrocnemius-soleus during the loading phase and decreased knee coactivity (the ratio of quadriceps and hamstring activation) at toe-off. Principal component analyses showed that, compared with joint-angle data, joint angular velocity was better able to discriminate between the gait patterns of the normal and cerebral palsy groups.
Conclusions: This study showed that muscle-tendon lengthening corrects biomechanical alignment as reflected by changes in sagittal joint angles. However, joint angular velocity and electromyographic data suggest that the underlying neural input remains largely unchanged at the hip and knee. Conversely, electromyographic changes and changes in velocity in the ankle indicate that the activation pattern of the gastrocnemius-soleus complex in response to stretch was altered by recession of the complex.