6 Minute Walk Test – An Outcome Measure

Outcome measures are used throughout the course of a physical therapy treatment plan to assess a patient’s baseline, response to treatment, and progress/change of status. Measures are usually taken in the first session and taken again each month or every 10 visits, to identify changes in the patient’s status. Many outcome measures are reliable due to concise instructions that make it easily reproducible. One such measure is called the 6 Minute Walk Test, which is used to examine aerobic capacity and endurance. The test measures the distance a person can walk within 6 minutes.

Traditionally, this evidenced based outcome measure was used for patients with cardiopulmonary issues. However, this test has an extremely high external validity; therefore, this measure can be used for pre-school children, grade school children, adults, and elderly adults with a number of diagnoses including those of arthritis, fibromyalgia, alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, COPD, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, stroke and others. Necessary items to conduct this test are a stopwatch, straight 30-meter walkway, 2 cones to identify walkway, and a trundle wheel to measure distance covered. Optional items include a pulse oximeter to measure SpO2 and heart rate. The examiner then states a specific script of instructions before having the patient start the test. The examiner is then supposed to say specific prompts/words of encouragement at each minute mark or if the patient needs to take a break.

As expected, the greater the distance walked is a sign of good mobility. Therefore, an increase in distance performed indicates an improvement in mobility of the lower extremity. Additionally, examiners can see how much fatigue or poor endurance of muscles and lungs can affect an individual’s distance covered each minute. For instance, if a patient walked progressively less during each minute, the examiner could interpret fatigue as one factor affecting the patient. Physical therapists can utilize this test, among others, to analyze the functionality of a patient as we can cross-reference standardized norms. For example, there are standardized distances for community dwelling elderly patients for those between 60-69 years old for both men and women. If our patient that is 65 years old and is female, falls below this standard number, we can infer that this patient may be at a higher risk of problems that may occur later in life. Due to this, we can target treatment sessions to improve lower extremity strength and set out a plan of care to improve their distance. Overall, outcome measures are useful tools that physical therapists utilize to improve a patient’s function.

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