A Simple Solution for Testing Gait Speed in Any Situation

Measuring gait speed is an important part of every physical therapy assessment and often an indicator of the client’s vitality, especially in older adults. But have you ever been in a less-than-ideal situation and had to drop this valuable portion of your evaluation?

Fortunately, gathering this crucial information doesn’t require expensive tools or even access to your own office. These simple and inexpensive tricks will make it possible for you to test gait speed on the go without having to wait for perfect conditions.

Step 1: Build Your Portable Gait Speed Test Kit

What you’ll need:

  • 10 meters of durable, braided nylon rope (found at your local hardware store)
  • A free stopwatch app downloaded to your smart phone
  • Duct tape or a permanent marker

Using the tape or the marker, mark the rope two meters in from each end. This allows for two meters of acceleration and deceleration at each end with six meters in the middle—a classic gait speed test.

If you practice in a location where a 10-meter pathway can be difficult to access, such as the client’s home, you can customize lengths of rope to meet your specific needs. For instance, a three-meter length of rope will allow you to efficiently set up a Timed Up and Go test while a rope marked at eight feet enables you to assess gait speed in tight settings since gait speed normative data using as little as eight feet of walkway is available for clinical tests.

Step 2: Compare Apples to Apples When Assessing Data

When you are comparing and assessing the data you have collected, it’s important to make sure that you are comparing your collected data to norms collected under similar conditions. While meta-analyses on gait speed in older adults are available,1 it’s more effective to find data that is relevant for specific clients and situations.

For example, if your client is using an assistive device, you should be comparing the information you’ve collected to norms from studies that allowed for assistive devices.2 If you are using an abbreviated eight-foot walkway in your client’s home, you should be comparing to norms collected in the same fashion.

It’s also important to note that published norms in these conditions are not steady state gait; they are measured from a static start given the abbreviated distance, and this will need to be kept in mind as you are making your assessment.3

Step 3: Compare Changes in Gait Over Time

While comparing gait speeds to published norms provides helpful information in the moment, observing and recording changes in a client’s gait speed over time offers valuable insight into the client’s function, in addition to providing the data needed for proper documentation and reimbursement.

In older adults, gait speed is considered a vital sign, and it is a valuable predictor of mortality, cognitive decline, frailty, community access, and functional mobility. A gait speed equal to or greater than one meter per second is needed for ease in community mobility, making it a great target for your older adult clients.

By creating your own on-the-go gait speed test kit, you’ll be able to collect and record this valuable data in any situation. So grab your rope, your phone, and your reference norms and make good use of gait speed data for your older adult clients!

  1. Bohannon, RW, & Andrews, AW. (2011).Normal walking speed: a descriptive meta-analysis. Physiother. 97:182-189.
  2. Lusardi, MM, Pellecchia, GL, & Schulman, M. (2003). Functional performance in community living older adults. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 26(3):14-22.
  3. Bohannon, RW. (2008). Population representative gait speed and its determinants. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 31(2):49-52