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Many people use the treadmill to get for exercise and rehabilitation. Treadmills are a widely used tool for both athletes and patients- and for good reason. But does getting on a treadmill alter the way people walk? How does this vary between men and women?
A recent study from Seoul, South Korea investigated these questions to better understand how walking pattern, or gait, differs between treadmill walking and over-ground walking. They specifically analyzed the range of motion in the pelvis and the muscle activity of the lower limbs during the two different methods of walking and how it differed between males and females. The study included 23 men and women without pathologies that affected their gaits.
Subjects were instructed to:
- Walk for five minutes around the room for familiarization
- Walk for 30 seconds at their chosen comfortable speed which was recorded
- Walk for 30 seconds at that chosen speed on the treadmill
The movement during walking was analyzed through a triaxial accelerometer, a G-WALK system from BTS Bioengineering, which was placed on S1, the first sacral vertebra. To measure the muscle activity of the lower limbs, a wireless surface EMG system was used: the FREEEMG 1000 from BTS Bioengineering. This system allowed researchers to objectively measure muscle activity and range of motion so that comparisons could be made among trials and groups.
From the G-WALK system data, it was found that, on average, women had a higher range of motion in the pelvis, demonstrated by significantly higher pelvic obliquity range of motion then men. Through analysis of muscle activity with the FREEEMG system, significant differences were found between treadmill walking and over-ground walking and between the two phases of walking: stance and swing. When comparing the treadmill walk to the over-ground walk, researchers observed that during the stance phase, the largest quadricep muscle (vastus lateralis) and the shin muscle (tibialis anterior) activity was increased while the calf muscle (gastrocnemius medialis) activity was decreased. In the swing phase, the quadricep, shin and calf muscle activity were significantly increased during treadmill walking compared to over-ground walking.
Researchers concluded that these data indicated a need for more stability while walking on a treadmill, specifically demonstrated by the increase in the quadricep muscle activity for both swing and stance phase in treadmill walking. Furthermore, researchers stated that the continuous pace of the treadmill required subjects to transition into new gait cycles faster by lifting up their feet without sufficiently applying their force to the ground which was indicated by the decreased muscle activity in the calf and increased muscle activity in the quadricep muscle.
From this study, we can learn that walking on a treadmill introduces some instability and the need for faster transitions between gait cycles which affects the lower limb muscle activity and thus the gait pattern of an individual. These conclusions are important for both health care professionals and patients considering treadmill walking as a substitute for walking over the ground. It is clear that not only are there differences between the gait of men and women, but also differences in muscle use depending on if one is walking on a treadmill or over the ground.
This article was based on the journal article, referenced:
Lim, S., & Lee, W. (2018). Effects of pelvic range of motion and lower limb muscle activation pattern on over-ground and treadmill walking at the identical speed in healthy adults. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 30(4), 619–624. http://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.30.619