Backward walking highlights gait asymmetries in children with cerebral palsy

Germana Cappellini, Francesca Sylos-Labini, Michael J. MacLellan, Annalisa Sacco, Daniela Morelli, Francesco Lacquaniti, Yury Ivanenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To investigate how early injuries to developing motor regions of the brain affect different forms of gait, we compared the spatiotemporal locomotor patterns during forward (FW) and backward (BW) walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Bilateral gait kinematics and EMG activity of 11 pairs of leg muscles were recorded in 14 children with CP (9 diplegic, 5 hemiplegic; 3.0 -11.1 yr) and 14 typically developing (TD) children (3.3-11.8 yr). During BW, children with CP showed a significant increase of gait asymmetry in foot trajectory characteristics and limb intersegmental coordination. Furthermore, gait asymmetries, which were not evident during FW in diplegic children, became evident during BW. Factorization of the EMG signals revealed a comparable structure of the motor output during FW and BW in all groups of children, but we found differences in the basic temporal activation patterns. Overall, the results are consistent with the idea that both forms of gait share pattern generation control circuits providing similar (though reversed) kinematic patterns. However, BW requires different muscle activation timings associated with muscle modules, highlighting subtle gait asymmetries in diplegic children, and thus provides a more comprehensive assessment of gait pathology in children with CP. The findings suggest that spatiotemporal asymmetry assessments during BW might reflect an impaired state and/or descending control of the spinal locomotor circuitry and can be used for diagnostic purposes and as complementary markers of gait recovery. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Early injuries to developing motor regions of the brain affect both forward progression and other forms of gait. In particular, backward walking highlights prominent gait asymmetries in children with hemiplegia and diplegia from cerebral palsy and can give a more comprehensive assessment of gait pathology. The observed spatiotemporal asymmetry assessments may reflect both impaired supraspinal control and impaired state of the spinal circuitry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1165
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Basic muscle activation patterns
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Development
  • Gait asymmetries
  • Locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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