PT on the Net Research

Treadmills and Gait Correction


Question:

There is a trainer at our club that is adamant that walking on a treadmill backwards will reduce QL tightness and "retrain" the gait of someone who has a distorted gait pattern, in particular a hip drop. I think this is completely ridiculous and is putting clients at risk for injury for not only falling off the treadmill but by putting more strain on the hip flexors and possibly causing more anterior pelvic tilt with someone who probably already has a lower cross syndrome. I would really like a professional opinion on this.

Answer:

Backward walking or running has been used increasingly as a rehabilitation technique for persons suffering from neurological and orthopaedic impairments. In terms of reducing QL tightness, there is not a lot of research suggesting it. However, backward walking has been suggested to help strengthen the core (abs and back). As far as suggesting gait retraining, the research is mixed. It also depends on the age of the client that you are working with (young versus elderly).

Backward running and walking are also used as a cross training technique for individuals today. Individuals who suffer from knee pain while running and or walking have reported feeling relief with walking/running backwards on a treadmill or track.

This is a bit of an awkward position for a majority of people when you make your first attempt. Therefore, it is advised that you start at a slow speed and limit your distance. It is also a good idea to perform this exercise with a partner (if you are training a client, make sure you are there when they first perform this exercise). Correct backward walking form will also need to be taught to your clients. Rough terrains are not appropriate, so have your clients perform this activity on a track, treadmill or paved path. As with anything else, practice makes perfect. A study performed by Childs et al found that with increased practice participants became more efficient (VO2) walking backwards.

References:

  1. Laufer Y. (2003) Age- and gender-related changes in the temporal-spatial characteristics of forwards and backwards gaits. Physiother Res Int ;8(3):131-42.
  2. Ease on the knees: two options. (1994). The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, 11(1); 6-7.
  3. Childs JD, Gantt C, Higgins D, Papazis JA, Franklin R, Metzler T, Underwood FB. (2002) The effect of repeated bouts of backward walking on physiologic efficiency. J Strength Cond Res;16(3):451-5.