AGING
April 25, 2008

Fixing the Gait

More than 700,000 Americans have a stroke each year, many never fully recover.

More than 700,000 Americans have a stroke each year. Many never fully recover. One of the most common post-stroke problems is the development of an abnormal gait. This often leaves stroke survivors dependent on walkers, canes and other devices.

Unfortunately, currently there is no consensus on the best way to treat gait problems in stroke patients.

Now, a Baylor Health Care System study suggests that a specialized kind of treadmill might be a better way to help stroke patients walk correctly again.

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.

"Gait impairment is common after stroke with many survivors living with a walking-related disability, despite extensive rehabilitation," said Karen McCain, lead investigator of the study at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, "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 followed seven stroke patients who did locomotor treadmill training with partial body-weight support, which uses a regular treadmill that is outfitted with a harness. The harness supports part of the user's body weight while they use the treadmill.

This was shown to help patients re-learn how to walk in a safe and controlled way. As they became stronger, they supported more and more of their own body weight until finally they were able to walk without any assistance. After undergoing this training, all seven patients were able to recover their normal gait and walk unassisted.

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

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

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