Gait disturbances are one of the principal and most incapacitating symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD). In addition, walking economy is impaired in PD patients and could contribute to excess fatigue in this population. An important number of studies have shown that treadmill training can improve kinematic parameters in PD patients. However, the effects of treadmill and overground walking on the walking economy remain unknown. The goal of this study was to explore the walking economy changes in response to a treadmill and an overground training program, as well as the differences in the walking economy during treadmill and overground walking. Twenty-two mild PD patients were randomly assigned to a treadmill or overground training group. The training program consisted of 5 weeks (3 sessions/week). We evaluated the energy expenditure of overground walking, before and after each of the training programs. The energy expenditure of treadmill walking (before the program) was also evaluated. The treadmill, but not the overground training program, lead to an improvement in the walking economy (the rate of oxygen consumed per distance during overground walking at a preferred speed) in PD patients. In addition, walking on a treadmill required more energy expenditure compared with overground walking at the same speed. This study provides evidence that in mild PD patients, treadmill training is more beneficial compared with that of walking overground, leading to a greater improvement in the walking economy. This finding is of clinical importance for the therapeutic administration of exercise in PD.
Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; exercise; gait; treadmill; walking economy.