BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013 14:166

Test-retest reliability and sensitivity of the 20-meter walk test among patients with knee osteoarthritis

Jillian M Motyl, Jeffrey B Driban, Erica McAdams, Lori Lyn Price & Timothy E McAlindon


The 20-meter walk test is a physical function measure commonly used in clinical research studies and rehabilitation clinics to measure gait speed and monitor changes in patients’ physical function over time. Unfortunately, the reliability and sensitivity of this walk test are not well defined and, therefore, limit our ability to evaluate real changes in gait speed not attributable to normal variability. The aim of this study was to assess the test-restest reliability and sensitivity of the 20-meter walk test, at a self-selected pace, among patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis (OA) and to suggest a standardized protocol for future test administration.


This was a measurement reliability study. Fifteen consecutive people enrolled in a randomized-controlled trial of intra-articular corticosteroid injections for knee OA participated in this study. All participants completed 4 trials on 2 separate days, 7 to 21 days apart (8 trials total). Each day was divided into 2 sessions, which each involved 2 walking trials. We compared walk times between trials with Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. Similar analyses compared average walk times between sessions. To confirm these analyses, we also calculated Spearman correlation coefficients to assess the relationship between sessions. Finally, smallest detectable differences (SDD) were calculated to estimate the sensitivity of the 20-meter walk test.


Wilcoxon signed-rank tests between trials within the same session demonstrated that trials in session 1 were significantly different and in the subsequent 3 sessions, the median differences between trials were not significantly different. Therefore, the first session of each day was considered a practice session, and the SDD between the second session of each day were calculated. SDD was −1.59 seconds (walking slower) and 0.15 seconds (walking faster).


Practice trials and a standardized protocol should be used in administration of the 20-meter walk test. Changes in walk time between −1.59 seconds (walking slower) and 0.15 seconds (walking faster) should be considered within the range of normal variability of 20-meter walking speed. The primary limitation of our study was a small sample size, which may influence the generalizability of our findings.

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