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Background. People poststroke often walk with a spatiotemporally asymmetric gait, due in part to sensorimotor impairments in the paretic lower extremity. Although reducing asymmetry is a common objective of rehabilitation, the effects of improving symmetry on balance are yet to be determined. Objective. We established the concurrent validity of whole-body angular momentum as a measure of balance, and we determined if reducing step length asymmetry would improve balance by decreasing whole-body angular momentum. Methods. We performed clinical balance assessments and measured wholebody angular momentum during walking using a full-body marker set in a sample of 36 people with chronic stroke. We then used a biofeedback-based approach to modify step length asymmetry in a subset of 15 of these individuals who had marked asymmetry and we measured the resulting changes in whole-body angular momentum. Results. When participants walked without biofeedback, whole-body angular momentum in the sagittal and frontal plane was negatively correlated with scores on the Berg Balance Scale and Functional Gait Assessment supporting the validity of whole-body angular momentum as an objective measure of dynamic balance. We also observed that when participants walked more symmetrically, their wholebody angular momentum in the sagittal plane increased rather than decreased. Conclusions. Voluntary reductions of step length asymmetry in people poststroke resulted in reduced measures of dynamic balance. This is consistent with the idea that after stroke, individuals might have an implicit preference not to deviate from their natural asymmetry while walking because it could compromise their balance. Clinical Trials Number: NCT03916562.


This article was originally published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, volume 35, issue 8, in 2021.

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