Volitional Muscle Strength in the Legs Predicts Changes in Walking Speed Following Locomotor Training in People With Chronic Spinal Cord Injury

The purpose of this study was to determine the factors that predict whether a person with motor incomplete spinal cord injury will respond to body-weight–supported treadmill training. Demographic, clinical, and electrophysiological measurements taken prior to training were examined to determine which measures best predicted improvements in walking speed in 19 individuals with chronic (>7 months postinjury), motor-incomplete spinal cord injuries (ASIA Impairment Scale categories C and D, levels C1–L1). Two initial measures correlated significantly with improvements in walking speed: (1) the ability to volitionally contract a muscle, as measured by the lower-extremity manual muscle test (LE MMT) (r=.72), and (2) the peak locomotor electromyography (EMG) amplitude in the legs (r=.56). None of the demographics (time since injury, age, body mass index) were significantly related to improvements in walking speed, nor was the clinical measure of balance (Berg Balance Scale). Further analysis of LE MMT scores showed 4 key muscle groups were significantly related to improvements in walking speed: knee extensors, knee flexors, ankle plantar flexors, and hip abductors (r=.82). Prediction using the summed MMT scores from those muscles and peak EMG amplitude in a multivariable regression indicated that peak locomotor EMG amplitude did not add significantly to the prediction provided by the LE MMT alone. Change in total LE MMT scores from the beginning to the end of training was not correlated with a change in walking speed over the same period.

The results suggest that preserved muscle strength in the legs after incomplete spinal cord injury, as measured by MMT, allows for improvements in walking speed induced by locomotor training.

Yang, J. F., Norton, J., Nevett-Duchcherer, J., Roy, F. D., Gross, D. P., Gorassini, M. A. Volitional Muscle Strength in the Legs Predicts Changes in Walking Speed Following Locomotor Training in People With Chronic Spinal Cord Injury. Physical Therapy, 21 April 2011

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