The Sixth Vital Sign: Walking Speed

The Sixth Vital Sign: Walking Speed

Physical therapy clinicians commonly take the vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate to make clinical judgments. Other vitals signs included are the temperature and pulse oximetry. These vitals signs provide information about how well your body functions.

Walking Speed

Researchers recommend designating walking speed as a “sixth vital sign” due to its ability to assess and monitor functional status and overall health. It may not indicate systemic pathology, but, as a specialist in human movement and function, the physical therapist can use it as a screening tool to predict general health and monitor changes in improvement or decline in health and function.

Walking speed is a reliable, valid and sensitive screening tool to measure functional ability and has predictive value to assess future health status and functional decline.

Timed 10-meter walk test

Use a 20-meter long straight path consists of a 5-m acceleration area, 10-m steady walking area, and a 5-m deceleration area for measuring the walking speed. Place a marker on the 5-m and 15-m distance. Ask the patient to walk in a “comfortable speed” and start the timer when the limb crosses the first marker and stop the timer when the limb leaves the second marker and calculate the time taken to traverse the 10-m steady walking area.

The normal walking speed is between 1-2-1.4 m/sec although the walking speed varies by age, gender, and other variables.

Interpretation of the 10-m walk test

  1. A change of 0.05 m/sec walking speed is needed for a small but a meaningful change in walking speed
  2. An improvement of at least 0.1 m/sec increase in the walking speed is needed to predict well-being for patients who do not have a normal walking speed
  3. A decrease of 0.1 m/sec is linked with poor health status and increased cost and hospital stay
  4. Walking speed is an easy and safe screening tool available to physical therapists to interpret

References will be included soon.

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