Differentiation between non-neural and neural contributors to ankle joint stiffness in cerebral palsy

Karin L. De Gooijer-Van De Groep, Erwin De Vlugt, Jurriaan H. De Groot, Hélène Cm Van Der Heijden-Maessen, Dennis Hm Wielheesen, Rietje S. Van Wijlen-Hempel, J. Hans Arendzen, Carel Gm Meskers

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Background: Spastic paresis in cerebral palsy (CP) is characterized by increased joint stiffness that may be of neural origin, i.e. improper muscle activation caused by e.g. hyperreflexia or non-neural origin, i.e. altered tissue viscoelastic properties (clinically: "spasticity" vs. "contracture"). Differentiation between these components is hard to achieve by common manual tests. We applied an assessment instrument to obtain quantitative measures of neural and non-neural contributions to ankle joint stiffness in CP. Methods. Twenty-three adolescents with CP and eleven healthy subjects were seated with their foot fixated to an electrically powered single axis footplate. Passive ramp-and-hold rotations were applied over full ankle range of motion (RoM) at low and high velocities. Subject specific tissue stiffness, viscosity and reflexive torque were estimated from ankle angle, torque and triceps surae EMG activity using a neuromuscular model. Results: In CP, triceps surae reflexive torque was on average 5.7 times larger (p =.002) and tissue stiffness 2.1 times larger (p =.018) compared to controls. High tissue stiffness was associated with reduced RoM (p <.001). Ratio between neural and non-neural contributors varied substantially within adolescents with CP. Significant associations of SPAT (spasticity test) score with both tissue stiffness and reflexive torque show agreement with clinical phenotype. Conclusions: Using an instrumented and model based approach, increased joint stiffness in CP could be mainly attributed to higher reflexive torque compared to control subjects. Ratios between contributors varied substantially within adolescents with CP. Quantitative differentiation of neural and non-neural stiffness contributors in CP allows for assessment of individual patient characteristics and tailoring of therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number81
JournalJournal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Ankle joint
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Contracture
  • Movement disorder
  • Neuromechanics
  • Neuromuscular modeling
  • Spasticity
  • Stiffness
  • System identification

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