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Open Access Research article

An exploration of impaired walking dynamics and fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis

Janina M Burschka12*, Philipp M Keune2, Uwe Menge2, Ulrich Hofstadt-van Oy2, Patrick Oschmann2 and Olaf Hoos3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Sports Science, University of Bayreuth, 95440, Bayreuth, Germany

2 Klinikum Bayreuth GmbH, Betriebsstätte Hohe Warte, Department of Neurology, Hohe Warte 8, 95445, Bayreuth, Germany

3 Department Medicine, Training and Health, Institute of Sports Science, Philipps-University Marburg, Marburg, Germany

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:161  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-161

Published: 27 December 2012

Abstract

Background

Physical disability in multiple sclerosis (MS) is frequently characterized by impaired ambulation. Although walking tests have been successfully employed to assess walking ability in MS patients, data analytic procedures have predominantly relied on result-oriented parameters (e.g. total distance covered during a given amount of time), whereas process-oriented, dynamic walking patterns have mostly been ignored. This is striking, since healthy individuals have been observed to display a stereotypical U-shaped pattern of walking speed during timed walking, characterized by relatively high speed during the initial phase, subsequent slowing and final acceleration. Objective of the current study was to test the utility of the 6 min Walk (6MW) and the 12 min Walk (12MW) for revealing putatively abnormal temporal dynamic features of walking in MS.

Methods

A group of 37 MS patients was divided into subgroups with regard to their level of disability analyzed with the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS; Mild MS Group, n = 20, EDSS 0 – 3.5; Moderate MS Group, n = 17, EDSS 4 – 5). Subsequently, both groups were compared to age-matched healthy controls (n = 25) on both tests with regard to result-oriented characteristics (mean walking speed), as well as dynamic features (mean decline in walking speed, degree of observed U-shape).

Results

Both MS groups showed a significantly lower mean walking speed than healthy controls, independent of test duration. Compared to controls, the Moderate MS Group also slowed down more rapidly throughout both tests. The same pronounced decline in walking speed was observed for the Mild MS Group in case of the 12MW. Additionally, for both MS groups an attenuated U-shaped velocity pattern was observed relative to controls in the 6MW. Patients' subjective fatigue scores were more strongly correlated with the decline in walking speed than with the common parameter of mean walking speed in the 6MW.

Conclusions

MS patients display abnormal dynamics in their walking patterns. A pronounced linear decline in walking speed can be identified with the 12MW even in MS patients with seemingly mild disability. Similarly, the 6MW can be used to assess an abnormal walking profile. Particularly the linear decline in walking speed on this test shows a more robust association with subjective fatigue than mean walking speed. Dynamic walking parameters may hence represent valuable clinical features, serving as surrogate measures of motor fatigue. Future studies are needed to verify their prognostic value.

Keywords:
Multiple sclerosis; Ambulation; Walking; 6 minute walk; 6MW; 12 minute walk; 12MW; Linear trend; U-shape