Causal Effects of Motor Control on Gait Kinematics After Orthopedic Surgery in Cerebral Palsy: A Machine-Learning Approach

Katherine M. Steele, Michael H. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Altered motor control is common in cerebral palsy (CP). Understanding how altered motor control affects movement and treatment outcomes is important but challenging due to complex interactions with other neuromuscular impairments. While regression can be used to examine associations between impairments and movement, causal modeling provides a mathematical framework to specify assumed causal relationships, identify covariates that may introduce bias, and test model plausibility. The goal of this research was to quantify the causal effects of altered motor control and other impairments on gait, before and after single-event multi-level orthopedic surgery (SEMLS). Methods: We evaluated the impact of SEMLS on change in Gait Deviation Index (ΔGDI) between gait analyses. We constructed our causal model with a Directed Acyclic Graph that included the assumed causal relationships between SEMLS, ΔGDI, baseline GDI (GDIpre), baseline neurologic and orthopedic impairments (Imppre), age, and surgical history. We identified the adjustment set to evaluate the causal effect of SEMLS on ΔGDI and the impact of Imppre on ΔGDI and GDIpre. We used Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) and accumulated local effects to assess relative effects. Results: We prospectively recruited a cohort of children with bilateral CP undergoing SEMLS (N = 55, 35 males, age: 10.5 ± 3.1 years) and identified a control cohort with bilateral CP who did not undergo SEMLS (N = 55, 30 males, age: 10.0 ± 3.4 years). There was a small positive causal effect of SEMLS on ΔGDI (1.70 GDI points). Altered motor control (i.e., dynamic and static motor control) and strength had strong effects on GDIpre, but minimal effects on ΔGDI. Spasticity and orthopedic impairments had minimal effects on GDIpre or ΔGDI. Conclusion: Altered motor control did have a strong effect on GDIpre, indicating that these impairments do have a causal effect on a child’s gait pattern, but minimal effect on expected changes in GDI after SEMLS. Heterogeneity in outcomes suggests there are other factors contributing to changes in gait. Identifying these factors and employing causal methods to examine the complex relationships between impairments and movement will be required to advance our understanding and care of children with CP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number846205
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jun 3 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01NS091056.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Steele and Schwartz.


  • cerebral palsy
  • electromyography (EMG)
  • gait
  • machine learning
  • motor control
  • orthopedic surgery
  • spasticity
  • weakness


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