Sympathetic nervous system activity measured by skin conductance quantifies the challenge of walking adaptability tasks after stroke

Document Type


Publication Date



Background Walking adaptability tasks are challenging for people with motor impairments. The construct of perceived challenge is typically measured by self-report assessments, which are susceptible to subjective measurement error. The development of an objective physiologically-based measure of challenge may help to improve the ability to assess this important aspect of mobility function. The objective of this study to investigate the use of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity measured by skin conductance to gauge the physiological stress response to challenging walking adaptability tasks in people post-stroke. Methods Thirty adults with chronic post-stroke hemiparesis performed a battery of seventeen walking adaptability tasks. SNS activity was measured by skin conductance from the palmar surface of each hand. The primary outcome variable was the percent change in skin conductance level (ΔSCL) between the baseline resting and walking phases of each task. Task difficulty was measured by performance speed and by physical therapist scoring of performance. Walking function and balance confidence were measured by preferred walking speed and the Activities-specific Balance Confidence Scale, respectively. Results There was a statistically significant negative association between ΔSCL and task performance speed and between ΔSCL and clinical score, indicating that tasks with greater SNS activity had slower performance speed and poorer clinical scores. ΔSCL was significantly greater for low functioning participants versus high functioning participants, particularly during the most challenging walking adaptability tasks. Conclusion This study supports the use of SNS activity measured by skin conductance as a valuable approach for objectively quantifying the perceived challenge of walking adaptability tasks in people post-stroke.

Publication Title

Gait and Posture



First Page


Last Page


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


PubMed ID