Locomotor training approaches for individuals with spinal cord injury: a preliminary report of walking-related outcomes

J Neurol Phys Ther. 2005 Sep;29(3):127-37. doi: 10.1097/01.npt.0000282245.31158.09.


Background and purpose: Body weight supported (BWS) locomotor training improves overground walking ability in individuals with motor-incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). While there are various approaches available for locomotor training, there is no consensus regarding which of these is optimal. The purpose of this ongoing investigation is to compare outcomes associated with these different training approaches.

Subjects and methods: Twenty-seven subjects with chronic motor-incomplete SCI have completed training and initial and final testing at the time of this preliminary report. Subjects were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 different BWS assisted-stepping groups, including: (1) treadmill training with manual assistance (TM), (2) treadmill training with stimulation (TS), (3) overground training with stimulation (OG), or (4) treadmill training with robotic assistance (LR). Prior to and following participation we assessed walking-related outcome measures including overground walking speed, training speed, step length, and step symmetry.

Results: Data pooled across all subject groups showed a significant effect of training on walking speed. While the differences between groups were not statistically significant, there was a trend toward greater improvement in the TS and OG groups. Post hoc subgroup analysis of outcomes from subjects with slower initial walking speed (< 0.1 m/s; n = 15) compared to those with faster initial walking speeds (> or = 0.1 m/s; n = 12) identified meaningful differences in outcomes with walking speed increasing by 85% in the slower group and by only 9% in the faster group. Step length of both stronger and weaker limb increased in all groups with the exception of those in the LR group. Step symmetry was increased in the TM and LR groups.

Discussion and conclusion: These results represent preliminary findings of changes in walking-related function associated with different forms of BWS locomotor training for individuals with chronic, motor-incomplete SCI. Early data indicates that locomotor outcomes in these individuals appear to be comparable across training approaches. For the individuals in this study sample, those with the greatest deficits in walking function benefitted the most from locomotor training.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / physiopathology
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Robotics
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing