Walk and Text Much?

Physical therapy doctoral student Hope Schulte stands on a PROPRIO 5000, which tests reactions to random perturbations. Both she and fellow doctoral student Joseph Ganske studied how texting affects walking.

By Elizabeth Szalay ’13
May 20, 2013

We are all well aware of the dangers of texting and driving, but what about texting and walking? Physical therapy doctoral students Joseph Ganske and Hope Schulte were concerned with the practice and decided to dig deeper.

“With the huge increase in text messaging, over the last 10 years, there hasn’t really been any research in this area,” Ganske said. “We all know the dangerous effects it has on driving, but much less about its effects on walking and balance.”

With much preparation, Ganske and Schulte presented their research on the effects of texting while walking on balance and gait at the 2013 Graduate Scholarship Expo.

“We started the preliminary planning of the study last spring, in regards to performing a thorough literature review and planning out our methods,” Schulte said. “We then began running subjects last fall and finished up our research over the winter.”

Ganske and Schulte had their test subjects walk across a GAITRite mat, a mat that senses and calculates various parameters of walking, to measure normal balance and gait. Subjects also had to stand on a PROPRIO 5000 — a circular machine that tests reactions to random perturbations, in this situation, the subject’s gait and balance while walking and texting.

From the experiments run on the two machines, Ganske and Schulte saw a clear and interesting trend between subjects.

“Subjects were reluctant to make any errors while texting, but their gait and balance were significantly affected,” Schulte said. “Basically one is more concerned about sending a grammatically appropriate text at a fast speed than maintaining one’s normal gait and balance.”

The two students hope that this research and study provide new ways of treating patients, whether they text or not.

“When treating patients who already have difficulty walking or maintaining balance, it will be important for us, as physical therapists, to teach our patients about avoiding performing multiple tasks at once to avoid falling and injuries,” Ganske said.

Perhaps students will think before texting and walking. Is it worth replying, and risking a fall, or can it wait five minutes?