Humans with spinal cord injury (SCI) modulate locomotor output in response to limb load. Understanding the neural control mechanisms responsible for locomotor adaptation could provide a framework for selecting effective interventions. We quantified feedback and feedforward locomotor adaptations to limb load modulations in people with incomplete SCI. While subjects airstepped (stepping performed with kinematic assistance and 100% bodyweight support), a powered-orthosis created a dorisflexor torque during the "stance phase" of select steps producing highly controlled ankle-load perturbations. When given repetitive, stance phase ankle-load, the increase in hip extension work, 0.27 J/kg above baseline (no ankle-load airstepping), was greater than the response to ankle-load applied during a single step, 0.14 J/kg (P = 0.029). This finding suggests that, at the hip, subjects produced both feedforward and feedback locomotor modulations. We estimate that, at the hip, the locomotor response to repetitive ankle-load was modulated almost equally by ongoing feedback and feedforward adaptations. The majority of subjects also showed after-effects in hip kinetic patterns that lasted 3 min in response to repetitive loading, providing additional evidence of feedforward locomotor adaptations. The magnitude of the after-effect was proportional to the response to repetitive ankle-foot load (R2 = 0.92). In contrast, increases in soleus EMG amplitude were not different during repetitive and single-step ankle-load exposure, suggesting that ankle locomotor modulations were predominately feedback-based. Although subjects made both feedback and feedforward locomotor adaptations to changes in ankle-load, between-subject variations suggest that walking function may be related to the ability to make feedforward adaptations.
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