Objective To provide a systematic review and describe how assessments of walking speed are reported in the health care literature.
Methods MEDLINE electronic database and bibliographies of select articles were searched for terms describing walking speed and distances walked. The search was limited to English language journals from 1996 to 2006. The initial title search yielded 793 articles. A review of the abstracts reduced the number to 154 articles. Of these, 108 provided sufficient information for inclusion in the current review.
Results Of the 108 studies included in the review 61 were descriptive, 39 intervention and 8 randomized controlled trials. Neurological (n = 55) and geriatric (n = 27) were the two most frequent participant groups in the studies reviewed. Instruction to walk at a usual or normal speed was reported in 55 of the studies, while 31 studies did not describe speed instructions. A static (standing) start was slightly more common than a dynamic (rolling) start (30 vs 26 studies); however, half of the studies did not describe the starting protocol. Walking 10, 6 and 4 m was the most common distances used, and reported in 37, 20 and 11 studies respectively. Only four studies included information on whether verbal encouragement was given during the walking task.
Conclusions Tests of walking speed have been used in a wide range of populations. However, methodologies and descriptions of walking tests vary widely from study to study, which makes comparison difficult. There is a need to find consensus for a standardized walking test methodology.