Objective: To examine effects of hip and ankle stretching on gait function of older people.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Flexibility training was performed in participants' homes. Assessments were performed in a biomechanics laboratory.
Participants: Forty healthy volunteers (mean age +/- SD, 72.1+/-4.7 y) randomized to 2 groups: intervention (n=20) and control (n=20).
Intervention: Intervention participants performed an 8-week stretching program, and control group participants maintained activity level for 8 weeks. One investigator made weekly visits to instruct and monitor participants.
Main outcome measures: Primary outcome measures were passive joint motion for hip extension and ankle dorsiflexion and freely chosen gait speed. Secondary outcome measures were gait parameters during freely chosen gait speed and set gait speed walking (stride length, joint displacement).
Results: Compared with the control group, the intervention group had increased combined hip and knee motion (P=.023), ankle motion (P=.020), and freely chosen gait speed (P=.016). The intervention group showed statistically nonsignificant trends of increased stride length at freely chosen gait speed and set gait speed.
Conclusions: Findings suggest joint motion is a modifiable impairment that is effectively targeted with flexibility training for older people. Participants in the intervention group had improvements in joint motion as well as increased freely chosen gait speed. Mechanisms responsible for changes in freely chosen gait speed warrant further investigation.