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Measuring Walking Speed May Paint Picture of MS Progression

Measuring the time it takes a person with multiple sclerosis (MS) to walk 25 feet may provide a clear picture of the progression of the disease, along with the severity of disability, according to a study published in the October 30, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Multiple sclerosis is a disorder in which the immune system erodes the protective myelin sheath around the body’s nerves.

“We already know that the timed 25-foot walk test is a meaningful way to measure disability in MS,” said study author Myla D. Goldman, MD, MSc, with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Our study builds on that research by providing a clearer idea of how walk time can provide information about how a person’s disease progression and disability impacts their every-day activities and real-world function.”

For the study, 159 people with MS were given the timed 25-foot walking test and asked for information about employment, ability to do daily activities and use of canes or other devices for help with walking. The results were then confirmed in a second group of 95 people with MS.

The study found that participants who took longer than six seconds to walk 25 feet were more likely to be unemployed, have a change in occupation due to MS and walking, use a cane and require assistance with daily activities such as cooking and house cleaning. For example, 59 percent of those who took less than six seconds to walk 25 feet were employed, compared to 29 percent of those who took longer than six seconds. Only 43 percent of the faster walkers reported a change in their occupation due to MS, compared to 71 percent of those who took more than six seconds.

Those who took eight seconds or longer to complete the walk in the study were more likely unemployed, using Medicaid or Medicare, divorced, walking with a walker, and were more than 70 percent more likely to be unable to perform daily activities such as house cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, and cooking.

“Based on these findings, we propose that a timed 25-foot walk performance of six seconds or more and eight seconds or more represent meaningful benchmarks of MS progression,” Goldman said.

The study was supported by Biogen Idec. and the ziMS Foundation.

To learn more about MS, please visit

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 26,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit

Rachel L. Seroka | American Academy of Neurology
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