Gait variability: methods, modeling and meaning

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2005 Jul 20;2:19. doi: 10.1186/1743-0003-2-19.


The study of gait variability, the stride-to-stride fluctuations in walking, offers a complementary way of quantifying locomotion and its changes with aging and disease as well as a means of monitoring the effects of therapeutic interventions and rehabilitation. Previous work has suggested that measures of gait variability may be more closely related to falls, a serious consequence of many gait disorders, than are measures based on the mean values of other walking parameters. The Current JNER series presents nine reports on the results of recent investigations into gait variability. One novel method for collecting unconstrained, ambulatory data is reviewed, and a primer on analysis methods is presented along with a heuristic approach to summarizing variability measures. In addition, the first studies of gait variability in animal models of neurodegenerative disease are described, as is a mathematical model of human walking that characterizes certain complex (multifractal) features of the motor control's pattern generator. Another investigation demonstrates that, whereas both healthy older controls and patients with a higher-level gait disorder walk more slowly in reduced lighting, only the latter's stride variability increases. Studies of the effects of dual tasks suggest that the regulation of the stride-to-stride fluctuations in stride width and stride time may be influenced by attention loading and may require cognitive input. Finally, a report of gait variability in over 500 subjects, probably the largest study of this kind, suggests how step width variability may relate to fall risk. Together, these studies provide new insights into the factors that regulate the stride-to-stride fluctuations in walking and pave the way for expanded research into the control of gait and the practical application of measures of gait variability in the clinical setting.