Treadmill walking exercises can help improve gait speed and dynamics in people with Rett syndrome, a study suggests.
However, the investigators cautioned that additional research is warranted to confirm these findings and explore the beneficial impact of treadmill training in this patient population.
The study, “Kinematics associated with treadmill walking in Rett syndrome,” was published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation.
People with Rett syndrome typically experience progressive loss of their ability to walk independently, which may result in muscle atrophy (shrinkage), limb contractures, decreased cardio-respiratory fitness, and low overall physical fitness.
Physical therapy is often suggested for people with Rett syndrome to help them sustain their walking capacity for as long as possible. Several strategies can be used, including traditional physical exercises and stretching, guided physical activities, and hydrotherapy.
These strategies are mainly focused on walking and balance control. More recent studies have suggested that incorporating walking in a therapeutic setting, such as walking on a treadmill, could also be beneficial for Rett syndrome patients.
In the study, researchers from the University of Houston and Blue Bird Circle Rett Center assessed the impact of walking exercises on 17 females with Rett syndrome, ranging in age from 4 to 20. All were able to walk independently without additional aids, and none were taking medications that would impact their motor function.
They were all able to walk between speeds of 0.2 to 0.5 meters per second on a motorized treadmill. During the exercise, their joint movement patterns were recorded using a camera-based motion capture system and analysis software.
In general, all participants were able to decrease their stride times, maintain their pace, and continue walking as the treadmill increased speed. Three participants were able to continue walking up to a speed of 0.6 meters per second.
“Although our participants were able to adapt to the increasing treadmill speeds, that ability was limited to a narrow range of speeds,” the scientists noted.
Increasing walking speed had a significant impact on knee and hip joint range of movement, and on hip velocity — reflecting the patients’ ability to modify their lower limb motion to adapt their walking pace to increasing treadmill speed, the researchers said.
Overall, these results suggest that Rett patients can detect sensory information that indicated increased speed, but they can also integrate this information and enhance their lower limb velocities in response.
Supported by these findings, the team believes that “ambulatory [Rett] individuals may benefit from a physical activity program that includes regular bouts of treadmill walking,” potentially improving “walking kinematics” and providing overall health benefits.
“The ability to adapt to increases in treadmill speed suggests that a training program of treadmill walking may be effective in promoting improved gait performance in individuals with Rett syndrome,” the researchers said.