For people who have experienced a spinal cord injury (SCI), regaining ambulatory functioning – the ability to walk – is typically a primary goal of rehabilitation. However, even those SCI patients who are able to walk often find that their pace is much slower than a non-injured person’s, which may limit their ability to walk safely outdoors and in the community. In such cases, they may choose instead to use a wheelchair.
Using a simple ten-meter walking task, a group of researchers in Europe sought to determine the differences in walking speed between SCI patients who choose to walk independently and those who choose to travel by wheelchair. After recording patients’ walking speed over a ten-meter distance, they discovered that:
- SCI patients who can still walk have a mean walking speed of .8 m/s, compared to a mean walking speed of about 1.4 m/s for nonimpaired people.
- Because a walking speed of about 1.2 m/s is necessary for safe and effective ambulation in a community setting (where stairs and curbs must be managed), most patients whose mean walking speed was under .6 m/s chose to use a wheelchair when moving about outside the home.
- Older SCI patients and those with more severe injury were less likely to walk independently in the community.
Regaining ambulatory capacity is often an important milestone for individuals who have suffered SCI. Though demographic factors such as age and injury severity can affect patients’ ability to walk again, a walking speed of .6 m/s may be a meaningful target during the rehabilitation process. At this speed, independent ambulation in the community may be possible for individuals with SCI, allowing increased social contact, personal autonomy, and overall quality of life.
Hosman AJF, Bartels HMA, Edwards MJR, et al. Ten meters walking speed in spinal-cord injured patients: Does speed predict who walks and who rolls? Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. (September 2017).