Eight weeks of training on a treadmill with continuously varying surface inclines improved gait disturbances, particularly walking speed, in Parkinson’s disease patients, researchers report.
Their finding were published in the study, “Exploring gait adaptations to perturbed and conventional treadmill training in Parkinson’s disease: Time-course, sustainability, and transfer,” in the journal Human Movement Science.
As the disease progresses, Parkinson’s patients experience an increase in gait difficulties and balance problems, lowering their mobility and quality of life.
In addition, studies have shown that Parkinson’s patients take shorter and slower steps, and have high stride-to-stride variability.
Because some gait disturbances are drug-resistant, nonpharmacological treatment options are needed to improve these patients’ quality of life.
“Improved stride length and stride-to-stride variability have been demonstrated following several weeks of treadmill practice for both, overground and treadmill walking, respectively,” the authors wrote.
Researchers had recently demonstrated that eight weeks of treadmill therapy with additional postural perturbations (i.e., varying surface inclines) improved overground gait speed and dynamic balance control in Parkinson’s patients.
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Now the same team at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg has analyzed spatiotemporal gait adaptations to treadmill training — with and without an incline — both on and off the machine.
They used data from a randomized controlled Phase 1 trial (NCT01856244) aimed at investigating the effectiveness of a sensorimotor treadmill intervention to improve walking and balance abilities in people in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Sensorimotor treadmill training was conducted on a special machine that challenged the participants through small oscillations, simulating walking on natural, uneven surfaces. This intervention was compared with conventional treadmill training without surface perturbations.
Thirty-eight Parkinson’s patients were randomly assigned to 40 minutes of treadmill training two times per week for eight weeks. Of these patients, 18 performed treadmill training with continuously varying surface inclines, while the other 20 walked on the treadmill without surface perturbations.
Patients were assessed every week during training protocol (prior to the training sessions), within one week after the intervention, and at a three-month follow-up.
Gait variability significantly decreased in both training groups. Nonetheless, longer stride length and time, stance time, and swing time were significantly improved only in the treadmill incline training group.
For reference, one gait cycle consists of two phases: stance, or the period of time that the foot is on the ground, and swing, meaning the period of time that the foot is off the ground moving forward.
Researchers then investigated the sustainability of gait changes over three months.
At the three-month follow-up, there were significant changes between the groups in stance and swing time, which were due to a much higher variability in the conventional treadmill training group. Statistical comparisons within the groups revealed no significant changes in the treadmill incline training group.
Additional statistical analysis also showed decreased step length asymmetry in the conventional treadmill training group.
The team then assessed the extent of transfer effects to overground gait in both training regimes.
“When considering the entire sample, significant changes in overground gait parameters at [week 8] were observed only for stance- and swing time, with a significantly decreased stance time … and a corresponding increase in swing time,” they wrote. However, these findings were statistically significant only in the treadmill incline training regime.
“[Parkinson’s disease] patients demonstrated marked gait adaptations to the eight-week treadmill intervention, which were partially retained after three months follow-up,” they noted.
Treadmill training with small oscillations seemed to reduce gait disturbances, but the transfer of such changes to overground walking was limited in most evaluated variables.
Further research is still necessary to corroborate these findings.