Objectives: To conduct a pilot study of weight-supported ambulation training after incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI), and to assess its safety.
Design: Quasiexperimental, repeated measures, single group.
Setting: Veterans Affairs medical center.
Patients: Three subjects with incomplete, chronic, thoracic SCIs; 2 classified as D on the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) impairment scale and 1 as ASIA impairment scale C.
Intervention: Subjects participated in 12 weeks of training assisted by 2 physical therapists. The training consisted of walking on a treadmill while supported by a harness and a pneumatic suspension device. Support started at 40% of body weight and a treadmill speed of.16kmph, and progressed by reducing support and increasing treadmill speed and continuous treadmill walking time up to 20 minutes. Training was conducted for 1 hour per day, 5 days per week for 3 months. Treadmill walking occurred for 20 minutes during the sessions.
Main outcome measures: Gait function (speed, endurance, walking status, use of assistive device and orthotics); oxygen costs of walking; brain motor control assessment; self-report indices; ASIA classification; muscle function test; and safety.
Results: All 3 subjects increased gait speed (.118m/s initially to.318m/s after training 12wk), and gait endurance (20.3m/5min initially to 63.5m/5min). The oxygen costs decreased from 1.96 to 1.33mL x kg(-1) x m(-1) after 12 weeks of training.
Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that supported treadmill ambulation training can improve gait for individuals with incomplete SCIs by using objective gait measures. The self-report indices used have promise as patient-centered outcome measures of this new form of gait training. A larger, controlled study of this technique is warranted.