Locomotor patterns during obstacle avoidance in children with cerebral palsy

G. Cappellini, F. Sylos-Labini, M. J. MacLellan, C. Assenza, L. Libernini, D. Morelli, F. Lacquaniti, Y. Ivanenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated how early injuries to developing brain affect the interaction of locomotor patterns with the voluntary action required by obstacle clearance. This task requires higher cognitive load and specific anticipatory sensorimotor integration than more automated steady-state gait. To this end, we compared the adaptive gait patterns during obstacle clearance in 40 children with cerebral palsy (CP) (24 diplegic, 16 hemiplegic, 2–12 yr) and 22 typically developing (TD) children (2–12 yr) by analyzing gait kinematics, joint moments during foot elevation, electromyographic (EMG) activity of 11 pairs of bilateral muscles, and muscle modules evaluated by factorization of the EMG signals. The results confirmed generally slower task performance, plus difficulty in motor planning and control in CP. Thus ~30% of diplegic children failed to perform the task. Children with CP demonstrated higher foot lift, smaller range of motion of distal segments, difficulties in properly activating the hamstring muscles at liftoff, and a modified hip strategy when elevating the trailing limb. Basic muscle modules were generally roughly similar to TD patterns, though they showed a limited adaptation. Thus a distinct activation burst in the adaptable muscle module timed to the voluntary task (liftoff) was less evident in CP. Children with CP also showed prolonged EMG burst durations. Impaired obstacle task performance may reflect impaired or less adaptable supraspinal and spinal control of gait when a locomotor task is superimposed with the voluntary movement. Neurorehabilitation of gait in CP may thus be beneficial by adding voluntary tasks such as obstacle clearance during gait performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-590
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Abnormal development
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Locomotion
  • Neuromuscular pattern generation
  • Obstacle avoidance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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