Influence of step length on 6-minute walk test performance in patients with chronic heart failure

Garyfallia K Pepera, Gavin R Sandercock, Rebecca Sloan, John J F Cleland, Lee Ingle, Andrew L Clark
Physiotherapy 2012, 98 (4): 325-9

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the influence of gait parameters including step length and walking speed during performance of the 6-minute walking test (6MWT) in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF).

DESIGN: Observational study.

SETTING: Specialist heart failure clinic.

PARTICIPANTS: Patients with CHF and aged-matched, apparently healthy controls.

INTERVENTIONS: Each patient and control performed a 6MWT following a standardised protocol in a 15m corridor. The number of steps (defined as step from left foot to right foot) taken every 15m was counted, and reported as minute-by-minute changes in 6MWT performance. In addition, minute-by-minute changes in time taken to complete 15m and mean walking speed throughout the test were calculated.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Walking speed and step length.

RESULTS: Thirty patients with CHF {87% males; mean age 75 [standard deviation (SD) 8] years} and 10 healthy controls [80% males; mean age 77 (SD 11) years] undertook the 6MWT. For the CHF group, the mean distance walked was 309 (SD 48)m and the peak Borg score was 12 (SD 1). For the controls, the mean distance walked was 334 (SD 138)m and the peak Borg score was 12 (SD 1). Patients with CHF showed no significant minute-by-minute changes in step length or walking speed over the course of the 6MWT. In the first 5minutes, healthy controls had a longer step length and faster walking speed than patients with CHF [step length: mean difference in the first minute was 0.03m, 95% confidence interval (CI) of the difference 0.01 to 0.05m; P=0.02; walking speed: mean difference in the first minute 0.04m/second, 95% CI of the difference 0.02 to 0.07m/second; P=0.01]. A multiple linear regression analysis demonstrated that body mass index (P=0.02) was the most important predictor of 6MWT performance.

CONCLUSION: Patients with CHF have a shorter step length and walk more slowly than controls during the 6MWT. Altered gait mechanics may contribute to limited exercise capacity in patients with CHF.

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