Treadmill Walking Associated With Improved Ambulation in Rett Syndrome

Woman jogging on treadmill
Woman jogging on treadmill
No differences were observed between overground and treadmill walking with regard to stride and stance time.

A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology shows that treadmill walking exercise may improve gait and overall walking ability in pediatric and young adult patients with Rett syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder affecting live-born females that impairs cognition, global development, and ambulation.

Female patients between the age of 5 and 20 with a Rett syndrome diagnosis were enrolled (n=14). A pathogenic mutation in the MECP2 gene was present in all participants. Patients were not taking medications that influenced muscle tone or movement. Participants performed an overground walking task and a harness-secured motorized treadmill walking task. Investigators measured stride, stance, swing, double support times, and variance between the two measures.

No differences were observed between overground and treadmill walking with regard to stride (Z = −2.277, NS) and stance time (Z = −2.095, NS). Significant differences were observed with regard to swing (P <.01) and double-support times (P <.01). However, both components demonstrated significantly less activity during the treadmill walking test. In addition, treadmill walking was associated with significantly increased stance time percentage (P <.01) and significantly decreased swing (P <.01) and double-support time (P <.01) compared with overground walking. There was also less variance during treadmill vs overground walking in stride time (P <.01), swing time (P <.01), and double-support time (P <.01).

The inclusion of only ambulatory females of varying ages represents a potential limitation of the analysis.

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The investigators concluded that the significant differences between treadmill and overground walking indicate “that many of the neural mechanisms that support locomotion in both scenarios remain intact and that clinicians and therapists may consider performing evaluations during both tasks to gain greater insight into the underlying abilities of their patients with Rett syndrome.”


Layne CS, Lee BC, Young DR, et al. Temporal gait measures associated with overground and treadmill walking in Rett syndrome [published online January 1, 2018]. J Child Neurol. doi:10.1177/0883073818780471