BACKGROUND: After transfemoral amputation, many hours of practice are needed to re-learn walking with a prosthesis. The long adaptation process that consolidates a novel gait pattern seems to depend on cerebellar function for reinforcement of specific gait modifications, but the precise, step-by-step gait modifications (e.g., foot placement) most likely rely on top-down commands from the brainstem and cerebral cortex. The aim of this study was to identify, in able-bodied individuals, the specific modulations of cortical rhythms that accompany short-term gait modifications during first-time use of a dummy prosthesis.
METHODS: Fourteen naïve participants walked on a treadmill without (one block, 4 min) and with a dummy prosthesis (three blocks, 3 × 4 min), while ground reaction forces and 32-channel EEG were recorded. Gait cycle duration, stance phase duration, step width, maximal ground reaction force and, ground reaction force trace over time were measured to identify gait modifications. Independent component analysis of EEG data isolated brain-related activity from distinct anatomical sources. The source-level data were segmented into gait cycles and analyzed in the time-frequency domain to reveal relative enhancement or suppression of intrinsic cortical oscillations. Differences between walking conditions were evaluated with one-way ANOVA and post-hoc testing (α = 0.05).
RESULTS: Immediate modifications occurred in the gait parameters when participants were introduced to the dummy prosthesis. Except for gait cycle duration, these modifications remained throughout the duration of the experimental session. Power modulations of the theta, mu, beta, and gamma rhythms, of sources presumably from the fronto-central and the parietal cortices, were found across the experimental session. Significant power modulations of the theta, beta, and gamma rhythms within the gait cycle were predominately found around the heel strike of both feet and the swing phase of the right (prosthetic) leg.
CONCLUSIONS: The modulations of cortical activity could be related to whole-body coordination, including the swing phase and placing of the prosthesis, and the bodyweight transfer between legs and arms. Reduced power modulation of the gamma rhythm within the experimental session may indicate initial motor memories being formed. Better understanding of the sensorimotor processes behind gait modifications may inform the development of neurofeedback strategies to assist gait rehabilitation.