In children with cerebral palsy (CP), rigid ventral shell ankle-foot orthoses (vAFOs) are often prescribed to reduce excessive knee flexion in stance and lower the energy cost of walking (ECW). However, how vAFOs affect ECW is a complex issue, as vAFOs may have an impact on lower limb biomechanics, upper body movements, and balance. Besides, the vAFO's biomechanical effect have been shown to be dependent on its stiffness around the ankle joint. We examined whether vAFO stiffness influences trunk movements and gait stability in CP, and whether there is a relationship between these factors and ECW. Fifteen children with spastic CP were prescribed vAFOs. Stiffness was varied into a rigid, stiff and flexible configuration. At baseline (shoes-only) and for each vAFO stiffness configuration, 3D-gait analyses and ECW-tests were performed. From the gait analyses, we derived trunk tilt, lateroflexion, and rotation range of motion (RoM) and the mediolateral and anteroposterior Margins of Stability (MoS) and their variability as measures of gait stability. With the ECW-test we determined the netEC. We found that wearing vAFOs significantly increased trunk lateroflexion (Wald χ2 = 33.7, p < 0.001), rotation RoM (Wald χ2 = 20.5, p < 0.001) and mediolateral gait instability (Wald χ2 = 10.4, p = 0.016). The extent of these effects partly depended on the stiffness of the vAFO. Significant relations between trunk movements, gait stability and ECW were found r = 0.57–0.81, p < 0.05), which indicates that trunk movements and gait stability should be taken into account when prescribing vAFOs to improve gait in children with CP walking with excessive knee flexion.
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- Ankle-foot orthosis
- Cerebral palsy
- Postural balance
- Trunk biomechanics
- Walking energy cost