Walking Patterns of MS Patients Studied to Reduce Risk of Falling

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by David Melamed, PhD |

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People with multiple sclerosis (MS) exert increased caution with their walking pattern and take smaller steps overall, a study shows.

These findings could contribute to the development of better walking rehabilitation programs and decrease the risk of falls.

The study, “Influence of Multiple Sclerosis on Dynamic Gait Stability,” was published in the Journal of Biomechanics.

People with MS experience symptoms that include, among others, fatigue, muscle spasms, pain, and difficulty with walking and maintaining balance. These symptoms put MS patients at a higher risk of falling.

Researchers at Georgia State University and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine sought to determine the specific mechanics of walking in MS patients in order to lessen their risk of falling.

The team recruited 20 patients with MS, as well as a control group of 25 healthy volunteers matched by age and sex to the MS group.

Each participant in the study was asked to walk 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) three times, with eight cameras placed around the designated area to capture the walking mechanics.

The primary measurement of the study was a metric called dynamic gait stability, which refers to a person’s ability to maintain balance while walking. This gait measurement was recorded for the take-off and landing of each step, on each person’s stronger and weaker side.

Overall, results showed that the dynamic gait stability was significantly lower for all measurements in patients with MS compared to the control group.

Researchers looked more closely at the mechanics, and found that people with MS compensate for this reduced balance by taking shorter and slower steps.

“Our study confirmed that people with MS indeed demonstrate impairments in maintaining dynamic gait stability in comparison with their healthy counterparts,” Meng-Wei Lin, the study’s first author, said in a Georgia State University news story.

“Our results also revealed that people with MS develop strategies to accommodate impairments in dynamic balance,” Lin said.

These shorter steps help shift the center of mass, allowing patients to maintain themselves within what is called the feasible stability region, or the zone between forward and backward balance loss.

The study also found that the landing angle of the foot was altered in people with MS in order to maintain balance.

“The findings from this study could provide insight into the impact of MS on the control of dynamic gait stability,” the researchers wrote.

The team believes that the detailed analysis of walking patterns in people with MS will assist with the development of better rehabilitation programs and ultimately reduce their risk of falling.

“This study leads us to understand that step length and foot landing angle are two significant factors for maintaining body dynamic balance in people with MS, so they could be two targets for gait rehabilitation,” Lin said.

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