Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)


Physical Therapy

Advisor 1

Jing Nong Liang

First Committee Member

Merrill Landers

Second Committee Member

Daniel Young

Number of Pages



Background: The excitability of the H-reflex pathway in the non-impaired nervous system can be augmented by altering the different parameters of a walking task, specifically slope. We sought to examine the adaptations in soleus H-reflex excitability and foot force control following an acute bout of upslope or downslope treadmill walking in people post-stroke compared to those who are non- impaired. Methods: We recruited 12 individuals with chronic post-stroke hemiparesis and 9 age-similar non- neurologically impaired individuals. Each subject was tested over 2 sessions separated by at least 7 days. For each session, subjects walked at a self-selected walking speed on an instrumented treadmill for 20 minutes under a level and then an upslope condition, or a level and then a downslope condition, with at least an hour rest between the conditions. The vertical component of ground reaction force was used to determine the stance and swing phase of the gait cycle. Peak propulsion and braking forces were analyzed offline for the first (T1) and last minute (T20) of each walking condition to examine adaptations in foot force control. Soleus H-reflexes (Hmax) were tested before and after each walking condition in the paretic legs of the post-stroke group and the right legs of the control group. To ensure consistency, a control M wave (Mmax) preceding the Hmax was kept constant across all conditions for each subject. Peak to peak amplitudes of the maximal H-reflexes and maximal M waves were measured offline and expressed as an Hmax/Mmax ratio. Results: The paretic legs generated higher propulsion force during upslope (11.75±1.04 %BW), but comparable propulsion forces during downslope, when compared to level walking (6.14±0.67 %BW). However, we did observe statistical significance in main effect for slope in paretic (F(2,22)=33.178, p<0.001), non-paretic (F(1.144, 12.585)=23.246, p<0.001) and non-impaired legs (F(1.137, 10.998)=22.766, p<0.001). Pairwise comparisons between slope types indicated that on average, peak braking forces were higher when walking downslope and lower when walking upslope, when compared to level walking. We observed an overall change in Hmax/Mmax ratio following 20 minutes of walking, and the change was different for post-stroke compared to control group, as suggested by the significant interaction between time and group (F(1,19)=16.84, p=0.001). Conclusion: Our observations suggest that when the biomechanics of the walking task is altered, through adjusting the slope of the walking surface, paretic legs exhibit increased propulsion forces during upslope walking. Paretic propulsive forces were greatest in the upslope condition and lowest in the downslope condition. Regardless of group, individuals had greatest braking forces during the downslope condition and lowest during the upslope condition. We believe, based on current studies, that increased paretic propulsion forces in the upslope condition may be due to the increased difficulty of the environmental condition. In the level condition, spinal circuits in the stroke-impaired nervous system are trending towards adaptations similar to the non-impaired nervous system, such that the Hmax/Mmax ratios were depressed. However, in the more challenging upslope condition, adaptations of the paretic soleus H-reflexes were impaired such that the Hmax/Mmax ratios were trending towards elevated. Future studies will examine the optimal walking duration and degree of slope to induce neural adaptations, as well as determine any long-term retention of plasticity.


Neuroscience; Neurobiology; Neuroplasticity; Physical therapy; Gait; Kinematics; Kinesiology; Rehabilitation


Physical Therapy

File Format


File Size

470 Kb

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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