We have previously shown that control subjects use two distinct temporal strategies when stepping on an inclined surface during walking: One for level and 10° surfaces and another for 20 and 30° surfaces. These two temporal strategies were characterized by systematic shifts in the timing of muscle activity and peak joint angles. We examined whether cerebellar subjects with mild to moderate gait ataxia were impaired in their ability to select these two temporal strategies, adjust peak joint angle amplitudes, and/or adjust one joint appropriately with respect to movements and constraints at another joint. Subjects walked on a level surface and on different wedges (10, 20, and 30°) presented in the context of level walking. In a single trial, a subject walked on a level surface in approach to a wedge, took a single step on the wedge, and continued walking on an elevated level surface beyond the wedge. Cerebellar subjects used two temporal strategies, one for the level and 10° surfaces and another for 20 and 30° surfaces. Cerebellar strategies were similar to those used by controls except for the timing of ankle-joint movement on the steeper wedges. Cerebellar subjects adjusted the peak amplitudes of individual joint angles normally, with the exception of peak ankle plantarflexion. However, they exhibited greater trial-to-trial variability of peak hip and knee joint angles that increased as a function of wedge inclination. The most substantial deficit noted in the cerebellar group was in the relative movement of multiple joints. Cerebellar subjects demonstrated multijoint coordination deficits in all conditions, although these deficits were most pronounced during stance on the steeper wedges. On the 30° wedge, cerebellar subjects showed abnormal relative movement of hip, knee, and ankle joints and the most substantial decomposition of movement. We speculate that to simplify multijoint control, cerebellar subjects decomposed their movement by fixing the ankle joint in a dorsiflexed position on the steepest wedges. Our results suggest that the cerebellum may not be critical in selecting the basic motor patterns for the two temporal strategies because cerebellar subjects produced appropriate timing shifts at most joints. Instead, our data suggest that the cerebellum is most critical for adjusting the relative movement of multiple joints, especially to accommodate external constraints.
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