Toe flexor strength is important for preventing older adults from falling. Although intrinsic foot muscles are the main determinants of toe flexor strength, exercises for strengthening these muscles are difficult for older adults. This study therefore aimed to determine whether the use of electromyographic biofeedback helps older adults to perform intrinsic foot muscle strengthening exercises.
This randomized controlled trial had two parallel arms. Participants were randomly allocated to the control group or the electromyographic biofeedback group. Control participants performed two progressive intrinsic foot muscle strengthening exercises twice a week for 6 weeks. Participants in the other group performed these exercises assisted by electromyographic biofeedback. Primary outcome measures were changes in toe flexor strength and the timed up-and-go and functional reach tests (the latter two being balance tests).
Altogether, 23 older adults were randomized to the control group (n = 12) or the electromyographic biofeedback group (n = 11). After the 6-week intervention, toe flexor strength on the dominant side increased in both groups (P < 0.017). However, toe flexor strength on the nondominant side increased only in the electromyographic biofeedback group (P < 0.017), with a large effect size of 1.5. There were no changes in the two balance tests. Three of the control group and two of the electromyographic biofeedback group were lost to follow- up.
Our results indicate that, the use of electromyographic biofeedback can enhance the effect of intrinsic foot muscle strengthening exercises on the nondominant side in older adults.
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