Individuals post-stroke experience persisting gait deficits due to altered joint mechanics, known clinically as spasticity, hypertonia, and paresis. In engineering, these concepts are described as stiffness and damping, or collectively as joint mechanical impedance, when considered with limb inertia. Typical clinical assessments of these properties are obtained while the patient is at rest using qualitative measures, and the link between the assessments and functional outcomes and mobility is unclear. In this study we quantify ankle mechanical impedance dynamically during walking in individuals post-stroke and in age-speed matched control subjects, and examine the relationships between mechanical impedance and clinical measures of mobility and impairment. Perturbations were applied to the ankle joint during the stance phase of walking, and least-squares system identification techniques were used to estimate mechanical impedance. Stiffness of the paretic ankle was decreased during mid-stance when compared to the non-paretic side; a change independent of muscle activity. Inter-limb differences in ankle joint damping, but not joint stiffness or passive clinical assessments, strongly predicted walking speed and distance. This work provides the first insights into how stroke alters joint mechanical impedance during walking, as well as how these changes relate to existing outcome measures. Our results inform clinical care, suggesting a focus on correcting stance phase mechanics could potentially improve mobility of chronic stroke survivors.
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