WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Home-based exercise managed by a physical therapist is just as effective at restoring stroke patients' walking ability as a formal rehabilitation program using a specialized treadmill, a new study indicates.
The results also defy conventional wisdom that stroke recovery peaks at six months, demonstrating that patients who began rehabilitation even six months after their stroke continued to improve their walking for up to a year.
"It's a fantastic study, rigorously done," said Dr. Richard B. Libman, chief of vascular neurology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "It's incredibly important . . . not to write patients off after a certain period of time has elapsed. Patients have the potential to improve way after the point where we thought they couldn't."
Researchers, calling it the largest stroke rehabilitation study ever done in the United States, randomly assigned more than 400 stroke patients with moderate or severe walking impairments to one of three study groups, two involving "locomotor" training and one involving home exercise. The patients were recruited from inpatient rehab facilities in California and Florida and had an average age of 62. Slightly more than half were men.
All received 36 supervised, 90-minute sessions over a period of 12 to 16 weeks, in addition to usual care.
Those in "locomotor" training attended a formal rehabilitation program where they used a treadmill while wearing a harness that offered partial body-weight support. Following treadmill training, they practiced walking. The early locomotor group started training two months post-stroke; the other locomotor participants began six months after their stroke. For the home-exercise group, a physical therapist focused on enhancing patients' flexibility, range of motion, strength and balance to improve walking ability, starting t
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