The interaction between muscle pathophysiology, body mass, walking speed and ankle foot orthosis stiffness on walking energy cost: a predictive simulation study

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Background: The stiffness of a dorsal leaf AFO that minimizes walking energy cost in people with plantarflexor weakness varies between individuals. Using predictive simulations, we studied the effects of plantarflexor weakness, passive plantarflexor stiffness, body mass, and walking speed on the optimal AFO stiffness for energy cost reduction. Methods: We employed a planar, nine degrees-of-freedom musculoskeletal model, in which for validation maximal strength of the plantar flexors was reduced by 80%. Walking simulations, driven by minimizing a comprehensive cost function of which energy cost was the main contributor, were generated using a reflex-based controller. Simulations of walking without and with an AFO with stiffnesses between 0.9 and 8.7 Nm/degree were generated. After validation against experimental data of 11 people with plantarflexor weakness using the Root-mean-square error (RMSE), we systematically changed plantarflexor weakness (range 40–90% weakness), passive plantarflexor stiffness (range: 20–200% of normal), body mass (+ 30%) and walking speed (range: 0.8–1.2 m/s) in our baseline model to evaluate their effect on the optimal AFO stiffness for energy cost minimization. Results: Our simulations had a RMSE < 2 for all lower limb joint kinetics and kinematics except the knee and hip power for walking without AFO. When systematically varying model parameters, more severe plantarflexor weakness, lower passive plantarflexor stiffness, higher body mass and walking speed increased the optimal AFO stiffness for energy cost minimization, with the largest effects for severity of plantarflexor weakness. Conclusions: Our forward simulations demonstrate that in individuals with bilateral plantarflexor the necessary AFO stiffness for walking energy cost minimization is largely affected by severity of plantarflexor weakness, while variation in walking speed, passive muscle stiffness and body mass influence the optimal stiffness to a lesser extent. That gait deviations without AFO are overestimated may have exaggerated the required support of the AFO to minimize walking energy cost. Future research should focus on improving predictive simulations in order to implement personalized predictions in usual care. Trial Registration Nederlands Trial Register 5170. Registration date: May 7th 2015.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

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