Currently, complete recovery is unattainable for most individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). Instead, recovery is typically accompanied by persistent sensory and motor deficits. Restoration of preinjury function will likely depend on improving plasticity and integration of these impaired systems. Eccentric muscle actions require precise integration of sensorimotor signals and are predominant during the yield (E2) phase of locomotion. Motor neuron activation and control during eccentric contractions is impaired across a number of central nervous system (CNS) disorders, but remains unexamined after SCI. Therefore, we characterized locomotor recovery after contusive SCI using hindlimb (HL) kinematics and electromyographic (EMG) recordings with specific consideration of eccentric phases of treadmill (TM) walking. Deficits in E2 and a caudal shift of locomotor subphases persisted throughout the 3-week recovery period. EMG records showed notable deficits in the semitendinosus (ST) during yield. Unlike other HL muscles, recruitment of ST changed with recovery. At 7 days, the typical dual-burst pattern of ST was lost and the second burst (ST2) was indistinct. By 21 days, the dual-burst pattern returned, but latencies remained impaired. We show that ST2 burst duration is highly predictive of open field Basso, Beattie, Bresnahan (BBB) scores. Moreover, we found that simple changes in locomotor specificity which enhance eccentric actions result in new motor patterns after SCI. Our findings identify a caudal shift in stepping kinematics, irregularities in E2, and aberrant ST2 bursting as markers of incomplete recovery. These residual impairments may provide opportunities for targeted rehabilitation.
Keywords: Kinematics, locomotion, rehabilitation, spinal cord injury