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Open Access Research article

Movement within foot and ankle joint in children with spastic cerebral palsy: a 3-dimensional ultrasound analysis of medial gastrocnemius length with correction for effects of foot deformation

Peter A Huijing1*, Menno R Bénard12, Jaap Harlaar2, Richard T Jaspers1 and Jules G Becher2

Author Affiliations

1 Move Research Institute Amsterdam, and Faculteit der Bewegingswetenschappen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Van de Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Move Research Institute Amsterdam, and Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:365  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-365

Published: 23 December 2013

Abstract

Background

In spastic cerebral palsy (SCP), a limited range of motion of the foot (ROM), limits gait and other activities. Assessment of this limitation of ROM and knowledge of active mechanisms is of crucial importance for clinical treatment.

Methods

For a comparison between spastic cerebral palsy (SCP) children and typically developing children (TD), medial gastrocnemius muscle-tendon complex length was assessed using 3-D ultrasound imaging techniques, while exerting externally standardized moments via a hand-held dynamometer. Exemplary X-ray imaging of ankle and foot was used to confirm possible TD-SCP differences in foot deformation.

Results

SCP and TD did not differ in normalized level of excitation (EMG) of muscles studied. For given moments exerted in SCP, foot plate angles were all more towards plantar flexion than in TD. However, foot plate angle proved to be an invalid estimator of talocrural joint angle, since at equal foot plate angles, GM muscle-tendon complex was shorter in SCP (corresponding to an equivalent of 1 cm). A substantial difference remained even after normalizing for individual differences in tibia length. X-ray imaging of ankle and foot of one SCP child and two typically developed adults, confirmed that in SCP that of total footplate angle changes (0-4 Nm: 15°), the contribution of foot deformation to changes in foot plate angle (8) were as big as the contribution of dorsal flexion at the talocrural joint (7°). In typically developed individuals there were relatively smaller contributions (10 -11%) by foot deformation to changes in foot plate angle, indicating that the contribution of talocrural angle changes was most important.

Using a new estimate for position at the talocrural joint (the difference between GM muscle–tendon complex length and tibia length, GM relative length) removed this effect, thus allowing more fair comparison of SCP and TD data. On the basis of analysis of foot plate angle and GM relative length as a function of externally applied moments, it is concluded that foot plate angle measurements underestimate angular changes at the talocrural joint when moving in dorsal flexion direction and overestimate them when moving in plantar flexion direction, with concomitant effects on triceps surae lengths.

Conclusions

In SCP children diagnosed with decreased dorsal ROM of the ankle joint, the commonly used measure (i.e. range of foot plate angle), is not a good estimate of rotation at the talocrural joint. since a sizable part of the movement of the foot (or foot plate) derives from internal deformation of the foot.

Keywords:
Cerebral palsy; Ultrasound imaging; m. gastrocnemius medialis; Ankle joint; Ankle moment; Foot deformation