Long-term body-weight-supported treadmill training and subsequent follow-up in persons with chronic SCI: effects on functional walking ability and measures of subjective well-being.

STUDY DESIGN: Longitudinal, prospective within-subject design.

OBJECTIVES: (1) To determine the effects of long-term body-weight-supported treadmill training (BWSTT) on functional walking ability and perceived quality of life in persons with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI), and (2) to investigate whether training adaptations are maintained following cessation of the BWSTT programme.

SETTING: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

METHODS: A group of 14 individuals with chronic (mean 7.4 years postinjury) incomplete SCI (ASIA B & C) participated in thrice-weekly sessions of BWSTT for a period of approximately 12 months (144 sessions). Functional walking ability and indices of subjective well-being were evaluated during the training programme and over an 8-month follow-up.

RESULTS: In total, 13 subjects successfully completed the 144 training sessions in the required study period (max. 15 months). Adherence to the thrice-weekly training frequency was 78.8%. All subjects improved in treadmill walking ability (54% reduction in required external body-weight support (BWS), 180% increase in treadmill walking speed, 335% increase in distance walked/session), and six subjects improved their capacity to walk over ground. There were accompanying increases in satisfaction with life and satisfaction with physical function, both of which were significantly correlated with improvements in treadmill walking ability. All but one subject returned for follow-up assessment 8 months post-training; while there was a slight decline in treadmill walking performance, over ground walking scores remained relatively stable. The only change in subjective well-being in the follow-up was a slight decrease in satisfaction with physical function.

CONCLUSION: Thrice-weekly BWSTT for 12 months was an effective stimulus to improve treadmill walking ability and indices of subjective well-being in persons with chronic incomplete SCI, and most of these improvements were maintained for up to 8 months following the cessation of training.