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Therapy Can Help Stroke Patients Walk, Even After 6 Months
Date:2/11/2011

FRIDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Stroke patients who do intense physical therapy at home achieve the same amount of improvement in their walking ability as those enrolled in a high-tech training program that uses a body-weight supported treadmill device, the results of a new study show.

The researchers also found that the walking ability of patients who do physical therapy continues to improve for up to one year after their stroke, which challenges the current belief that stroke recovery occurs early and peaks at six months.

Even patients who began rehabilitation as late as six months after their stroke were able to improve their walking, the study authors said.

This was the largest stroke rehabilitation study ever conducted in the United States, and included more than 400 patients, average age 62. Some were assigned to begin locomotor training two months after their stroke while others began at six months post-stroke.

Locomotor training, which involves having a patient walk on a treadmill in a harness that provides partial body-weight support, has grown increasingly popular. Upon completion of treadmill training, patients practice walking.

The patients in the two locomotor training groups were compared to patients who were assigned to a home exercise program managed by a physical therapist. The goal of this program was to enhance patients' flexibility, range of motion, strength and balance in order to improve their ability to walk.

When the patients were assessed one year after their stroke, 52 percent of all the participants had achieved significant improvements in their ability to walk. Patients in all three groups showed similar gains in the speed and distances of their walking, physical mobility, motor recovery and social participation, resulting in an improved quality of life, the researchers reported.

"More than 4 million stroke survivors experience difficulty walking. Rigorously compa
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