Background: Patients with stroke walk with excessive foot inversion at the affected side, which may disturb their balance and gait. Objectives: This study aimed to investigate the effects of instant biofeedback of plantar force at the medial and lateral forefoot regions on gait and plantar foot loading in patients with stroke. Methods: A total of eight patients with hemiplegic stroke, who had flexible rearfoot varus deformity at the affected side, participated in this study. A vibrotactile biofeedback system was developed and evaluated. It analyzed forces at the medial and lateral forefeet, and instantly provided vibration clues when the plantar force at medial forefoot was less than a threshold. Each subject's three-dimensional gait parameters and plantar-pressure distribution during walking were measured under two experimental conditions (sequence randomized): with and without the device turned on (Trial-registration number: ChiCTR-IPB-15006530 and HKCTR-1853). Results: Providing biofeedback significantly reduced the foot inversion and increased the mid-stance foot-floor contact area and medial midfoot plantar pressure of the affected limb, bringing the values of these parameters closer to those of the unaffected side. The biofeedback also significantly reduced the unaffected side's excessive knee flexion and hip abduction. Conclusions: There were signs of improved foot loading characteristics and gait upon provision of instant vibrotactile biofeedback of plantar force. The positive results of this study further support the development of wearable biofeedback devices for improving gait of patients with stroke.
Available for download on Thursday, September 27, 2018