Background: Stiff-Knee gait (SKG) after stroke is often accompanied by decreased knee flexion angle during the swing phase. The decreased knee flexion has been hypothesized to originate from excessive quadriceps activation.However, it is unclear whether hyperreflexia plays a role in this activation. The goal of this study was to establish the relationship between quadriceps hyperreflexia and knee flexion angle during walking in post-stroke SKG.
Methods: The rectus femoris (RF) H-reflex was recorded in 10 participants with post-stroke SKG and 10 healthy controls during standing and walking at the pre-swing phase. In order to attribute the pathological neuromodulation to quadriceps muscle hyperreflexia and activation, healthy individuals voluntarily increased quadriceps activity using electromyographic (EMG) feedback during standing and pre-swing upon RF H-reflex elicitation.
Results: We observed a negative correlation (R=−0.92,p= 0.001) between knee flexion angle and RF H-reflex amplitude in post-stroke SKG. In contrast, H-reflex amplitude in healthy individuals in presence (R= 0.47,p= 0.23) or absence (R=−0.17,p= 0.46) of increased RF muscle activity was not correlated with knee flexion angle. We observed a body position-dependent RF H-reflex modulation between standing and walking in healthy individuals with voluntarily increased RF activity (d= 2.86,p= 0.007), but such modulation was absent post-stroke (d= 0.73,p= 0.296).
Conclusions: RF reflex modulation is impaired in post-stroke SKG. The strong correlation between RF hyperreflexia and knee flexion angle indicates a possible regulatory role of spinal reflex excitability in post-stroke SKG. Interventions targeting quadriceps hyperreflexia could help elucidate the causal role of hyperreflexia on knee joint function in post-stroke SKG.