Spastic drop-foot is a common problem in children with cerebral palsy that may lead to tripping and falling. To improve ankle dorsiflexion in swing phase, prefabricated carbon-composite ankle-foot orthoses are commonly prescribed; by increasing ankle stiffness, these orthoses may also improve knee extension in stance.
To compare the effect of a stiff vs. flexible prefabricated ankle-foot orthosis on sagittal plane ankle and knee kinematics and kinetics during walking.
Cross-sectional, repeated-measures, interventional study.
Twenty-seven children and adolescents with cerebral palsy who had drop-foot in swing were included. Gait analysis was conducted under four conditions: barefoot, shod, with a stiff, and with a flexible orthosis. Participants were divided into two groups including children and adolescents who have a flexed knee during stance (KF, N = 12) and without flexed knee during stance (KE, N = 15).
Ankle dorsiflexion in swing phase was significantly improved compared with the shod condition by 6.3 degrees (SD = 3.3 degrees) only in the KE group when using the flexible orthosis. For the stiff orthosis, knee extension in stance was significantly increased by 2.4 degrees (SD = 3.3 degrees) in the KE group compared with the shod condition. No significant improvements were observed for the KF group. Further analysis indicated that only seven patients in the KF group with weak ankle plantarflexors improved knee extension while using the stiff orthosis.
Our results suggested that in the KE group, the flexible orthosis was best suited for patients with drop-foot without a knee extension deficit. The stiff orthosis was not suitable in this group as it caused a hyperextended knee without improving dorsiflexion in swing phase. Therefore, stiffness should be considered when prefabricated orthoses are prescribed.