A new systematic review of the effects of exercise programs on gait performance in people with lower limb amputations shows some positive benefits, though additional research is needed regarding the best combination. The review, published in Prosthetics and Orthotics International, found 623 article citations for studies of gait among people with lower limb amputations, which was narrowed down to eight studies involving 199 participants. The studies allowed researchers to compare self-selected gait speed among patients who received specific functional exercise programs, according a news release from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).  

The results of the analysis did not reveal, however, a single exercise program or combination that could be considered most effective. The authors focused on self-selected gait speed as “the only consistent measure of gait performance” among studies. The range of exercises in the studies included activities targeted at balance, supervised walking, specific muscle strengthening, gait training exercise, and functional training that focused on coordination exercises “beyond walking and stair negotiation.”

Exercise treatment duration ranged from 3 days to 14 months, and from 2 to 40 individual sessions of 30 to 90 minutes, as indicated on the APTA news release. Physical therapists were identified as the treatment providers in all except for one study, which did not specify who provided treatment.

The authors of the study write that the degree of improvement difference was difficult to pin down based in part on the wide variation of exercise programs utilized as well as the inconsistencies of the studies. However, the authors write, “The combined evidence suggests that a variety of different types of exercise can improve self-selected gait speed…[and] improvement in gait performance was seen throughout whether participants were in their third or seventh decade, and whether only men or men and women were combined.”

The authors of the study note, “Little evidence consistently differentiated which type of exercise was most beneficial,” though improvement occurred “whether most exercise was performed as an unsupervised home exercise program, in focused daily treatments provided within a single week, or in regular sessions spanning months.”

[Source: APTA]