Introduction: Rigid Ankle-Foot Orthoses (AFOs) are commonly prescribed to counteract excessive knee flexion during the stance phase of gait in children with cerebral palsy (CP). While rigid AFOs may normalize knee kinematics and kinetics effectively, it has the disadvantage of impeding push-off power. A spring-like AFO may enhance push-off power, which may come at the cost of reducing the knee flexion less effectively. Optimizing this tradeoff between enhancing push-off power and normalizing knee flexion in stance is expected to maximize gait efficiency. This study investigated the effects of varying AFO stiffness on gait biomechanics and efficiency in children with CP who walk with excessive knee flexion in stance. Fifteen children with spastic CP (11 boys, 10±2 years) were prescribed with a ventral shell spring-hinged AFO (vAFO). The hinge was set into a rigid, or spring-like setting, using both a stiff and flexible performance. At baseline (i.e. shoes-only) and for each vAFO, a 3D-gait analysis and 6-minute walk test with breath-gas analysis were performed at comfortable speed. Lower limb joint kinematics and kinetics were calculated. From the 6-minute walk test, walking speed and the net energy cost were determined. A generalized estimation equation (p<0.05) was used to analyze the effects of different conditions. Compared to shoes-only, all vAFOs improved the knee angle and net moment similarly. Ankle power generation and work were preserved only by the spring-like vAFOs. All vAFOs decreased the net energy cost compared to shoes-only, but no differences were found between vAFOs, showing that the effects of spring-like vAFOs to promote push-off power did not lead to greater reductions in walking energy cost. These findings suggest that, in this specific group of children with spastic CP, the vAFO stiffness that maximizes gait efficiency is primarily determined by its effect on knee kinematics and kinetics rather than by its effect on push-off power.
Kerkum, Y. L., Buizer, A. I., van den Noort, J. C., Becher, J. G., Harlaar, J., & Brehm, M. A. (2015). The Effects of Varying Ankle Foot Orthosis Stiffness on Gait in Children with Spastic Cerebral Palsy Who Walk with Excessive Knee Flexion. PLoS ONE, 10(11), e0142878. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0142878