Stroke Patients Re-Learn To Walk Correctly Again Using Special Treadmill
For the more than 700,000 people who experience a stroke each year, many never regain the ability to walk like they did prior to their stroke. But physical therapists, using a specialized treadmill, have discovered a new way to help stroke patients walk again -- correctly.
The results of their study, conducted at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation (BIR), appear in the April 2008 issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Often times, during rehabilitation, stroke patients develop an abnormal gait pattern, which can be difficult and sometimes impossible to correct.
"Gait impairment is common after a stroke with many survivors living with a walking-related disability, despite extensive rehabilitation," says Karen McCain, D.P.T., lead investigator of the study at BIR. "Walking incorrectly not only creates a stigma for these patients, but it also makes them more susceptible to injury and directly affects their quality of life."
After completing the pilot study, all seven of the patients enrolled were able to walk with a basically normal gait pattern, all without the use of even a cane.
"In my 14 years as a physical therapist I have not treated seven stroke patients total that walk this well. We are definitely on to something."
Lisa Day, a 44-year-old with no family history of stroke, was completely paralyzed on her left side after experiencing a stroke in September 2007. Within three weeks of sessions on the treadmill she was walking again the way she did prior to her stroke.
"I brought a wheelchair home from the hospital in case I needed it, but I only used it twice. To see me walk, you would never know that I had a stroke," says Day.
Lisa is now back on the treadmill again -- this time for exercise -- and walks over a mile several days a week.
The approach, known as locomotor treadmill training with partial body weight support, consists of a treadmill outfitted with a harness. The patient is secured to the harness to support a portion of their body weight while walking on the treadmill. In this reduced weight environment, the patient can relearn how to walk in a safe and controlled manner. Once the patient becomes stronger, more body weight is added until they can comfortably walk on their own without the need for assistance.
"The key to the success of our method is early intervention. All of the patients started on the treadmill as soon as possible during the acute period of recovery after their stroke," explains McCain. "We wanted to keep these abnormal gait patterns from developing in the first place."
Currently, there is no consensus regarding the optimal treatment for reestablishing a normal gait pattern in stroke patients -- most are rehabilitated using walkers and other assistive devices.
"Our ultimate goal for this study is to one day change the clinical practice in physical therapy," adds McCain.