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Special Treadmill Helps Stroke Patients Regain Normal Gait

Harness offers partial support as patients re-learn to walk

THURSDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- A specialized treadmill can help stroke patients learn to walk correctly again, says a Baylor Health Care System study.

More than 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and many never regain the ability to walk like they did before their stroke. They often develop an abnormal gait pattern, which can be difficult and sometimes impossible to correct.

"Gait impairment is common after stroke with many survivors living with a walking-related disability, despite extensive rehabilitation," Karen McCain, lead investigator of the study at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, said in a prepared statement. "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."

This study included seven stroke patients who did what's called locomotor treadmill training with partial body-weight support, which uses a treadmill outfitted with a harness. The patient is secured to the harness to support a portion of their body weight while they walk on the treadmill.

This approach helps patients re-learn how to walk in a safe and controlled way. As the patient gets stronger, more body weight is added, until they can walk on their own without any assistance. After undergoing this specialized treadmill training, all seven patients in the study were able to walk with a basically normal gait, without the use of cane.

"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. We wanted to keep these abnormal gait patterns from developing in the first place," McCain said.

The study was published in the April issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Currently, there's no consensus about the best method of developing a normal gait pattern in stroke patients. In most cases, rehabilitation involves the use of walkers and other assistive devices.

"Our ultimate goal for this study is to one day change the clinical practice in physical therapy," McCain said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about post-stroke rehabilitation.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Baylor Health Care System, news release, April 1, 2008

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