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Treadmill Training for Physical Therapy

“Treadmill training” is the term most often used to describe physical therapy interventions that use the treadmill as a tool to help patients achieve their therapy goals. Implementation of pediatric treadmill training is about more than turning the machine on and having a child run or walk for a few minutes. During a treadmill training session, the therapist will select a speed and duration based on the patient’s individual skills and needs; the incline of the treadmill may also be changed to further tailor the treatment to the patient. Use of a harness and body weight support system may be indicated to assist a patient who is not capable of ambulating independently, or to ensure safety when the patient is at risk of falling. Other factors to consider during a treadmill training session include the use of orthoses, positioning straps, and physical cues from the therapist.

At APT, physical therapists use treadmills for exercise and for training of the nervous system. We are able to accommodate the needs of toddlers, children, and adolescents who will benefit from treadmill training to develop their walking skills or to improve the skills that they already have. Published research has demonstrated the effectiveness of pediatric treadmill training, with or without body weight support, to improve walking speed, walking endurance, and gross motor skills among children with cerebral palsy. For infants with Down Syndrome, research supports the implementation of treadmill training to accelerate the achievement of independent walking. Case studies and research reports, with varying results, have been published regarding treadmill training for pediatric patients with a variety of other diagnoses; you can speak with your therapist about the possible benefits incorporating treadmill training as a part of your child’s physical therapy plan of care.

In addition to understanding the science behind the intervention, it is also important to understand the art of using the treadmill in pediatric physical therapy. Whether it is about singing a silly song, “going on a bear hunt,” or simply helping a child to learn that the treadmill is not a scary thing, keeping the child safe and engaged is essential to a successful treadmill training session.

-Natalie Goodrich, PT

1. Novak I, Morgan C, Fahey M, Finch-Edmondson M, Galea C, Hines A, et al. State of the evidence traffic lights 2019: Systematic review of interventions for preventing and treating children with cerebral palsy. Current neurology and neuroscience reports 2020, Issue 3. DOI: 10.1007/s11910-020-1022-z.
2. Valentín-Gudiol M, Mattern-Baxter K, Girabent-Farrés M, Bagur-Calafat C, Hadders-Algra M, Angulo-Barroso RM. Treadmill interventions in children under six years of age at risk of neuromotor delay. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD009242. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009242.pub3.