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Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2008 Nov;87(11):921-8. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0b013e31818a5556.

Association of lower limb cutaneous sensitivity with gait speed in the elderly: the health ABC study.

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Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas 66160, USA.



To examine the association of fast-adapting receptor-mediated vibrotactile sensitivity and slow-adapting receptor-mediated pressure sensitivity with self-selected usual gait speed and gait speed over a challenging narrow (20 cm wide) course.


Participants from the population-based older cohort of the Health ABC study were included (n = 1721; age: 76.4 +/- 2.8 yrs). Usual gait speed over 6 m and gait speed over a 6-m narrow course were measured. Vibration perception threshold (100 Hz) was measured on the plantar surface, and monofilament testing (1.4 and 10 g) was performed on the dorsum of the great toe. Covariates including knee extensor torque, standing balance, visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, knee pain, depressive symptoms, high fasting glucose levels, and peripheral arterial disease were evaluated.


Vibrotactile and monofilament sensitivity were significantly worse in slower gait speed groups in both walking conditions (P < 0.001 to P = 0.015). Adjusting for covariates, vibrotactile (P < 0.001) but not monofilament sensitivity (P = 0.655) was independently associated with self-selected normal gait speed. Neither sensory function was associated with narrow-base gait speed.


In the elderly, poor lower limb vibrotactile sensitivity measured on the plantar surface of the great toe, but not the pressure sensitivity as measured by monofilament testing on the dorsum of the great toe, is independently associated with slower self-selected normal gait speed. Narrow-based walking seems to depend on other neuromuscular mechanisms.

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