BACKGROUND: Individuals post-stroke walk slower than their able-bodied peers, which limits participation. This might be attributed to neurological impairments, but could also be caused by a mismatch between aerobic capacity and aerobic load of walking leading to an unsustainable relative aerobic load at most economic speed and preference for a lower walking speed.
RESEARCH QUESTION: What is the impact of aerobic capacity and aerobic load of walking on walking ability post-stroke?
METHODS: Forty individuals post-stroke (more impaired N = 21; preferred walking speed (PWS)<0.8 m/s, less impaired N = 19), and 15 able-bodied individuals performed five, 5-minute treadmill walking trials at 70 %, 85 %, 100 %, 115 % and 130 % PWS. Energy expenditure (mlO2/kg/min) and energy cost (mlO2/kg/m) were derived from oxygen uptake (V˙O2). Relative load was defined as energy expenditure divided by peak aerobic capacity (%V˙O2peak) and by V˙O2 at ventilatory threshold (%V˙O2-VT). Relative load and energy cost at PWS were compared with one-way ANOVA's. The effect of speed on these parameters was modeled with Generalized Estimating Equations.
RESULTS: Both more and less impaired individuals post-stroke showed lower PWS than able-bodied controls (0.44 [0.19-0.76] and 1.04 [0.81-1.43] vs 1.36 [0.89-1.53] m/s) and higher relative load at PWS (50.2 ± 14.4 and 51.7 ± 16.8 vs 36.2 ± 7.6 %V˙O2peak and 101.9 ± 20.5 and 97.0 ± 27.3 vs 64.9 ± 13.8 %V˙O2-VT). Energy cost at PWS of more impaired (0.30 [.19-1.03] mlO2/kg/m) was higher than less-impaired (0.19[0.10-0.24] mlO2/kg/m) and able-bodied (0.15 [0.13-0.18] mlO2/kg/m). For post-stroke individuals, increasing walking speed above PWS decreased energy cost, but resulted in a relative load above endurance threshold.
SIGNIFICANCE: Individuals post-stroke seem to reduce walking speed to prevent unsustainably high relative aerobic loads at the expense of reduced economy. When aiming to improve walking ability post-stroke, it is important to consider training aerobic capacity.