Gait changes with balance-based torso-weighting in people with multiple sclerosis

People with multiple sclerosis (PwMS) frequently have mobility impairments that may lead to falls and limitations in activities. Physiotherapy interventions that might improve mobility typically take several weeks. Balance-based torso-weighting (BBTW), a system of strategically placing light weights to improve response to balance perturbations, has yielded immediate small improvements in clinical measures in PwMS, but changes in spatiotemporal gait parameters are unknown. The objective was to investigate the effects of BBTW on gait parameters in PwMS and healthy controls. People with multiple sclerosis walked on an instrumented mat at their fastest speed for three trials each in two conditions: without BBTW then with BBTW. Healthy controls walked in both conditions at two speeds: their fastest speed and at velocities equivalent to their matched PwMS.. Averaged gait trials showed that, with BBTW, PwMS had significantly increased velocity (p = 0.002), cadence (p = 0.007) and time spent in single-limb support (p = 0.014), with decreased time in double-limb support (p = 0.004). Healthy controls increased velocity (p = 0.012) and cadence (p = 0.015) and decreased support base (p = 0.014) in fast trials with BBTW; at matched velocities, step length (p = 0.028) and support base (p = 0.006) were significantly different from PwMS. All gait variables in healthy controls at fast speeds were significantly different from PwMS walking at their fastest speeds.

All participants exhibited increases in gait velocity and cadence during fast walk with BBTW. Improvements in time spent in single-limb and double-limb support by PwMS with BBTW could reflect greater stability in gait. Future research might reveal if these immediate improvements could enhance effectiveness of longer-term physiotherapy on functional mobility in PwMS.