PURPOSE: We sought to identify the developing maturity of walking and running in young children. We assessed gait patterns for the presence of flight and double support phases complemented by mechanical energetics. The corresponding classification outcomes were contrasted via a shotgun approach involving several potentially informative gait characteristics. A subsequent clustering turned out very effective to classify the degree of gait maturity.
METHODS: Participants (22 typically developing children aged 2-9 years and 7 young, healthy adults) walked/ran on a treadmill at comfortable speeds. We determined double support and flight phases and the relationship between potential and kinetic energy oscillations of the center-of-mass. Based on the literature, we further incorporated a total of 93 gait characteristics (including the above-mentioned ones) and employed multivariate statistics comprising principal component analysis for data compression and hierarchical clustering for classification.
RESULTS: While the ability to run including a flight phase increased with age, the flight phase did not reach 20% of the gait cycle. It seems that children use a walk-run-strategy when learning to run. Yet, the correlation strength between potential and kinetic energies saturated and so did the amount of recovered mechanical energy. Clustering the set of gait characteristics allowed for classifying gait in more detail. This defines a metric for maturity in terms of deviations from adult gait, which disagrees with chronological age.
CONCLUSIONS: The degree of gait maturity estimated statistically using various gait characteristics does not always relate directly to the chronological age of the child.