Introduction: Gait evaluation protocols using instrumented treadmills will be increasingly used in the near future. For this reason, it must be shown that using instrumented treadmills will produce measures of the ground reaction force adequate for inverse dynamic analysis, and differences between treadmill and overground gait must be well characterized.
Methods: Overground walking kinetics were estimated with the subjects walking at their self-selected comfortable walking speed. For the treadmill gait trials, the subjects walked on two treadmills, such that heel-strike occurred on the forward treadmill and toe-off occurred on the trailing treadmill. The treadmill was set to the average overground walking speed. Overground and treadmill data were evaluated using Vicon Plug-in Gait. The differences between the maxima and minima of kinematic and kinetic parameters for overground and treadmill gait were evaluated.
Results: The kinematics of treadmill and overground gait were very similar. Twelve of 22 kinematic parameter maxima were statistically significantly different (p<0.05), but the magnitude of the difference was generally less than 2 degrees . All GRF maxima were found to be statistically significantly smaller for treadmill versus overground gait (p<0.05) as were 15 of 18 moment, and 3 of 6 power maxima. However, the magnitude of the differences was comparable to the variability in normal gait parameters. The sagittal plane ankle moments were not statistically different for treadmill and overground gait.
Discussion: We have shown that treadmill gait is qualitatively and quantitatively similar to overground gait. Differences in kinematic and kinetic parameters can be detected in matched comparisons, particularly in the case of kinetic parameters. However, the magnitudes of these differences are all within the range of repeatability of measured kinematic parameters. Thus, the mechanics of treadmill and overground gait are very similar.
Clinical significance: Having demonstrated the essential equivalence of treadmill and overground gait, it is now possible for clinical movement analysis to take advantage of treadmill-based protocols.