The aim of the research was to determine how knee extensor strength asymmetry influences gait asymmetry and variability because these gait parameters have been related to mobility and falls in older adults.Methods
Strength of the knee extensors was measured in 24 older women (65–80 yr). Subjects were separated into symmetrical strength (SS, n = 13) and asymmetrical strength (SA, n = 11) groups using an asymmetry cutoff of 20%. Subjects walked at a standard speed of 0.8 m·s−1 and at maximal speed on an instrumented treadmill while kinetic and spatiotemporal gait variables were measured. Gait and strength asymmetry were calculated as the percentage difference between legs and gait variability as the coefficient of variation over 20 sequential steps.Results
SA had greater strength asymmetry (27.4% ± 5.5%) than SS (11.7% ± 5.4%, P < 0.001). Averaged across speeds, SA had greater single- (7.1% vs. 2.5%) and double-limb support time asymmetry (7.0% vs. 4.3%) than SS and greater single-limb support time variability (9.7% vs. 6.6%, all P < 0.05). Group × speed interactions occurred for weight acceptance force variability (P = 0.02) and weight acceptance force asymmetry (P = 0.017) with greater variability at the maximal speed in SA (5.0% ± 2.4% vs. 3.7% ± 1.2%) and greater asymmetry at the maximal speed in SA (6.4% ± 5.3% vs. 2.5% ± 2.3%).Conclusion
Gait variability and asymmetry are greater in older women with strength asymmetry and increase when they walk near their maximal capacities. The maintenance of strength symmetry, or development of symmetry through unilateral exercise, may be beneficial in reducing gait asymmetry, gait variability, and fall risk in older adults.