Is greater spatiotemporal variability during curved path walking related to better curved path walking ability?

That was the question Spatiotemporal variability underlying skill in curved-path walking set out to answer in a study of older, community dwelling adults between 50-90, published in the January 2019 issue of Gait & Posture. Study authors Kay Lynn Bland, Kristin Lowry, Alex Krajek, Taylor Woods and Jessie VanSwearingen used the Zeno Walkway from Protokinetics to collect data to examine the associations between executive function and performance on complex walking tasks including obstacle negotiation, backward walking, and curved path walking. 

The authors analyzed data collected by the Zeno Walkway to determine gait variability during curved-path walking and straight path walking. Variability was determined by the standard deviations of step length, stride width, and step time of all the footfalls during the Figure-of-8 Walk Test (F8W) and on the Zeno Walkway. Spatial variability parameters were defined using methods for nonlinear walking.

Briefly, participants walked on an instrumented walkway (Protokinetics, Inc.) starting midway between 2 cones positioned 5 feet apart and completed a figure-of-8 path around the cones at their usual pace. Time and number of steps to complete the F8W were recorded…Gait variability was determined for curved-path walking (F8W) using the instrumented walkway data. Variability was the standard deviations of step length, stride width, and step time derived from all footfalls during the F8W. Spatial variability parameters were defined using methods for nonlinear walking.

Participants walked at their self-selected comfortable pace across 4-m of instrumented walkway (Protokinetics, Inc.) with 2-m of non-instrumented path at each end for acceleration/deceleration. Usual gait speed was determined as the mean of 4 trials. Variability was the standard deviations of step length, stride width, and step time derived from all footfalls recorded on the walkway during one trial, then averaged across 4 trials. As gait variability has been used as an indicator of the neuromotor control of straight-path walking, and has predictive ability for falls independent of gait speed, we used variability during straight path walking as a measure of baseline neuromotor control.

The study concluded that older adults with better motor skill in walking exhibited greater spatial variability when needed. They suggest, based on this study’s results, that the practice of active adjustment of stride width and step length during walking are important. And, as curved paths are common in walking, it is essential that rehabilitation professionals understand the critical components of effective performance, and address these components in the design and implementation of interventions meant to improve their patients’ walking skills.

Read the entire study in Gait & Posture here.