Walking and Balance Outcomes Are Improved Following Brief Intensive Locomotor Skill Training but Are Not Augmented by Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Persons With Chronic Spinal Cord Injury

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 16 (2022)
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Motor training to improve walking and balance function is a common aspect of rehabilitation following motor-incomplete spinal cord injury. Evidence suggests that moderate- to high-intensity exercise facilitates neuroplastic mechanisms that support motor skill acquisition and learning. Furthermore, enhancing corticospinal drive via transcranial direct current stimulation may augment the effects of motor training. In this pilot study, we investigated whether a brief moderate-intensity locomotor-related motor skill training circuit, with and without tDCS, improved walking and balance outcomes in persons with MISCI. In addition, we examined potential differences between within-day and between-day effects of MST. Twenty-six adults with chronic MISCI, who had some walking ability, were enrolled in a 5-day double-blind, randomized study with a 3-day intervention period. Participants were assigned to an intensive locomotor MST circuit and concurrent application of either sham tDCS or active tDCS. The primary outcome was overground walking speed measured during the 10-meter walk test. Secondary outcomes included spatiotemporal gait characteristics, peak trailing limb angle, intralimb coordination, the Berg Balance Scale, and the Falls Efficacy Scale-International questionnaire. Analyses revealed a significant effect of the MST circuit, with improvements in walking speed, cadence, bilateral stride length, stronger limb TLA, weaker limb ACC, BBS, and FES-I observed in both the MST+tDCSsham and MST+tDCS groups. No differences in outcomes were observed between groups. Between-day change accounted for a greater percentage of the overall change in walking outcomes. In persons with MISCI, brief intensive MST involving a circuit of ballistic, cyclic locomotor-related skill activities improved walking outcomes, and selected strength and balance outcomes; however, concurrent application of tDCS did not further enhance the effects of MST.Clinical Trial Registration[ClinicalTrials.gov], identifier [NCT03237234].



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