Background: There is growing evidence that stroke survivors can adapt and improve step length symmetry in the context of split-belt treadmill (SBT) walking. However, less knowledge exists about the strategies involved for such adaptations. This study analyzed lower limb muscle activity in individuals post-stroke related to SBT-induced changes in step length.
Methods: Step length and surface EMG activity of six lower limb muscles were evaluated in individuals post-stroke (n=16) during (adaptation) and after (after-effects) walking at unequal belt speeds.
Results: During adaptation, significant increases in EMG activity were mainly found in proximal muscles (p⩽0.023), whereas after-effects were observed particularly in the distal muscles. The plantarflexor EMG increased after walking on the slow belt (p⩽0.023) and the dorsiflexors predominantly after walking on the fast belt (p⩽0.017) for both, nonparetic and paretic-fast conditions. Correlation analysis revealed that after-effects in step length were mainly associated with changes in distal paretic muscle activity (0.522⩽ r ⩽0.663) but not with functional deficits. Based on our results, SBT walking could be relevant for training individuals post-stroke who present shorter paretic step length combined with dorsiflexor weakness, or individuals with shorter nonparetic step length and plantarflexor weakness.