Gait analysis (GA) typically includes surface electromyographic (sEMG) recording from several lower limb muscles, optoelectronic measurement of joint rotations, and force recordings from ground-based platforms. From the latter two variables, the muscle power acting on the lower limb joints can be estimated. Recently, gait analysis on a split-belt force treadmill (GAFT) was validated for the study of adult walking. It showed high reliability of spatiotemporal, kinematic, dynamic, and sEMG parameters, matching those obtainable with GA on the basis of ground walking. GAFT, however, still needs validation in children. Potential differences with respect to adult GAFT relate to (a) possible high signal-to-noise ratio, given the lower forces applied; (b) higher differences between treadmill and over-ground walking; and (c) limited compliance with the experimental setup. This study aims at investigating whether GAFT provides results comparable with those obtainable from ground walking in children and consistent with results from GAFT in adults. GAFT was applied to three groups of healthy children aged 5-6 years (n=6), 7-8 years (n=6), and 9-13 years (n=8) walking at the same average speed spontaneously adopted overground. The results were compared with those obtained from another study applying GA to an age-matched and speed-matched sample of 47 children, and with those obtained from GAFT in adults. The reliability (as indicated by the SD) of both spatiotemporal and dynamic parameters was higher in GAFT compared with GA. In the 5-6-, 7-8-, and 9-13-year-old groups, at average speeds of 0.83, 1.08, and 1.08 m/s, step length was shorter by 9.19, 3.57, and 2.30% compared with GA in controls at comparable speeds, respectively. For the youngest group, a lower power generation from the plantar flexors (peak power: 1.35±0.32 vs. 2.11±1.02 W/kg) and a slightly more flexed posture of the hip, knee, and ankle joints were observed during GAFT compared with GA in controls. The other gait parameters were very similar between the GAFT and the GA groups. The shortening of step length during GAFT, relative to GA at superimposable speed, was on average of all children 6.8%, in line with the 8% decrease found in adults. The profiles of sEMG and joint rotations, and all of the weight-standardized joint power parameters, matched those recorded in adults. The entire experimental session lasted about 1 h. All children complied with the experimental setting and easily completed the requested tests. In conclusion, GAFT seems to be a promising alternative to conventional GA in children.
- Journal Article