Regulating stepping during fixed-speed and self-paced treadmill walking
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Background: Treadmill walking should closely simulate overground walking for research validation and optimal skill transfer. Traditional fixed-speed treadmill (FS) walking may not simulate natural walking because of the fixed belt speed and lack of visual cues. Self-paced (SP) treadmill walking, especially feedback controlled SP treadmill walking, enables close-to-real-time belt speed changes with users' speed changes. Different sensitivity levels of SP treadmill feedback determine how fast the treadmill respond to user's speed change. Few studies have examined the differences between FS and SP treadmill walking, or the difference between sensitivity levels of SP treadmills, and their methods were questionable because of averaging kinematics and kinetics parameters, and failing to examine directly treadmill and subjects' speed data. This study compared FS with two SP modes with variation of treadmill speed and user's speed as dependent variables. Method: Thirteen young healthy subjects participated. Subjects walked on a motorized split-belt treadmill under FS, high sensitivity SP (SP-H) and low sensitivity SP (SP-L) conditions at normal walking speed. Root mean square error (RMSE) for subject's pelvis global speed (Vpg), pelvis speed with respect to treadmill speed (Vpt), and treadmill speed (Vtg) data were collected for all trials. Results: Significant condition effects were found between FS and the two SP modes in all RMSE values (p < 0.001). The two sensitivity levels of SP had similar speed patterns. Large subject × condition interaction effects were found for all variables (p < 0.001). Only small subject effects were found. Conclusions: The results of the study reveal different walking patterns between FS and SP. However, the two sensitivity levels failed to differ much. More habituation time may be needed for subjects to learn to optimally respond to the SP algorithm. Future work should include training subjects for more natural responses, applying a feed-forward algorithm, and testing the effect of optic flow on FS and SP speed variation.