Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2023 Sep 1;109:106090. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2023.106090. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Gait deficits are common after concussion in adolescents. However, the neurophysiological underpinnings of these gait deficiencies are currently unknown. Thus, the goal of this study was to compare spatiotemporal gait metrics, prefrontal cortical activation, and neural efficiency between concussed adolescents several weeks from injury and uninjured adolescents during a dual-task gait assessment.
METHODS: Fifteen concussed (mean age[SD]: 17.4[0.6], 13 female, days since injury: 26.3[9.9]) and 17 uninjured adolescents (18.0[0.7], 10 female) completed a gait assessment with three conditions repeated thrice: single-task walking, single-task subtraction, and dual-task, which involved walking while completing a subtraction task simultaneously. Gait metrics were measured using an inertial sensor system. Prefrontal cortical activation was captured via functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Neural efficiency was calculated by relating gait metrics to prefrontal cortical activity. Differences between groups and conditions were examined, with corrections for multiple comparisons.
FINDINGS: There were no significant differences in gait metrics between groups. Compared to uninjured adolescents, concussed adolescents displayed significantly greater prefrontal cortical activation during the single-task subtraction (P = 0.01) and dual-task (P = 0.01) conditions with lower neural efficiency based on cadence (P = 0.02), gait cycle duration (P = 0.03), step duration (P = 0.03), and gait speed (P = 0.04) during the dual-task condition.
INTERPRETATION: Our findings suggest that several weeks after injury concussed adolescents demonstrate lower neural efficiency and display a cost to gait performance when cognitive demand is high, e.g., while multitasking, suggesting that the concussed adolescent brain is less able to compensate when attention is divided between two concurrent tasks.