Brain Res Bull. 2009 Jan 15;78(1):35-42. Epub 2008 Oct 9.

Clinical relevance of gait research applied to clinical trials in spinal cord injury.

Ditunno J, Scivoletto G.

Jefferson Medical College, Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center of the Delaware Valley, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.

The restoration of walking function following SCI is extremely important to consumers and has stimulated a response of new treatments by scientists, the pharmaceutical industry and clinical entrepreneurs. Several of the proposed interventions: (1) the use of functional electrical stimulation (FES) and (2) locomotor training have been examined in clinical trials and recent reviews of the scientific literature. Each of these interventions is based on research of human locomotion. Therefore, the systematic study of walking function and gait in normal individuals and those with injury to the spinal cord has contributed to the identification of the impairments of walking, the development of new treatments and how they will be measured to determine effectiveness. In this context gait research applied to interventions to improve walking function is of high clinical relevance. This research helps identify walking impairments to be corrected and measures of walking function to be utilized as endpoints for clinical trials. The most common impairments following SCI diagnosed by observational gait analysis include inadequate hip extension during stance, persistent plantar flexion and hip/knee flexion during swing and foot placement at heel strike. FES has been employed as one strategy for correcting these impairments based on analysis that range from simple measures of speed, cadence and stride length to more sophisticated systems of three- dimensional video motion analysis and multichannel EMG tracings of integrated walking. A recent review of the entire FES literature identified 36 studies that merit comment and the full range of outcome measures for walking function were used from simple velocity to the video analysis of motion. In addition to measures of walking function developed for FES interventions, the first randomized multicenter clinical trial on locomotor training in subacute SCI was recently published with an extensive review of these measures. In this study outcome measures of motor strength (impairment), balance, Walking Index for SCI (WISCI), speed, 5min walk (walking capacities) and locomotor functional independence measure (L-FIM), a disability measure all showed improvement in walking function based on the strategy of the response of activity based plasticity to step training. Although the scientific basis for this intervention will be covered in other articles in this series, the evolution of clinical outcome measures of walking function continues to be important for the determination of effectiveness in clinical trials.