Content » Vol 51, Issue 2

Original report

Manually assisted body-weight supported locomotor training does not re-establish walking in non-walking subjects with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury: A randomized clinical trial

Anu Piira, Anne M. Lannem, Marit Sørensen, Thomas Glott, Raymond Knutsen, Lone Jørgensen, Knut Gjesdal, Nils Hjeltnes, Synnøve F. Knutsen
Department of Health and Care, Arctic University of Norway,, North Norway Rehabilitation Center, University of Tromsø, 9011 Tromsø, Norway. E-mail:
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-2508


Objective: To assess the effects of manually assisted body-weight supported locomotor training in subjects with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury.
Design: Randomized controlled clinical trial.
Subjects: Twenty subjects with American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grades C or D and > 2 years post-injury.
Methods: Random allocation to 60 days of body-weight supported locomotor training, or usual care, which might include over-ground walking. Walking function, lower extremity muscle strength and balance were blindly evaluated pre-/post-intervention.
Results: A small, non-significant improvement in walking function was observed (0. 1 m/s (95% confidence interval (95% CI) –0. 2, 0. 4)), but subjects without baseline gait function, did not re-establish walking. The effect on lower extremity muscle strength was 2. 7 points (95% CI –1. 4, 6. 8). No difference was observed in balance measures.
Conclusion: Subjects with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury without baseline walking function were unable to re-establish gait with manually assisted body-weight supported locomotor training. A modest, non-significant, improvement was found in strength and walking speed. However, due to study recruitment problems, an effect size that was smaller than anticipated, and large functional heterogeneity among study subjects, the effect of late-onset body-weight supported locomotor training is not clear. Future studies should include larger numbers of subjects with less functional loss and greater functional homogeneity. Intensive training should probably start earlier post-injury.

Lay Abstract

This randomized clinical trial assesses the effects of manually assisted body-weight supported treadmill training in patients with chronic functionally incomplete spinal cord injury acquired > 2 years earlier. Due to recruitment challenges, it was only possible to recruit two-thirds of the planned number of study participants. The intervention group received gait training 5 days per week over 12 weeks, and the control group received usual care with their local physical therapist. Subjects with no baseline gait function did not regain walking ability. Compared with the control group, the intervention group showed modest improvements in walking speed, lower extremity strength, and body control. However, all between-group differences were non-significant. Because the target number of study participants was not reached, the study was underpowered and non-significant, and thus the findings are inconclusive. It does, however, seem that this training method has benefits, but it is labour-intensive and requires large amounts of human resources.

Supplementary content


Do you want to comment on this paper? The comments will show up here and if appropriate the comments will also separately be forwarded to the authors. You need to login/create an account to comment on articles. Click here to login/create an account.