JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Treadmill training and body weight support for walking after stroke

Jan Mehrholz, Simone Thomas, Bernhard Elsner
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017 August 17, 8: CD002840
28815562

BACKGROUND: Treadmill training, with or without body weight support using a harness, is used in rehabilitation and might help to improve walking after stroke. This is an update of the Cochrane review first published in 2003 and updated in 2005 and 2014.

OBJECTIVES: To determine if treadmill training and body weight support, individually or in combination, improve walking ability, quality of life, activities of daily living, dependency or death, and institutionalisation or death, compared with other physiotherapy gait-training interventions after stroke. The secondary objective was to determine the safety and acceptability of this method of gait training.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched 14 February 2017), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and the Database of Reviews of Effects (DARE) (the Cochrane Library 2017, Issue 2), MEDLINE (1966 to 14 February 2017), Embase (1980 to 14 February 2017), CINAHL (1982 to 14 February 2017), AMED (1985 to 14 February 2017) and SPORTDiscus (1949 to 14 February 2017). We also handsearched relevant conference proceedings and ongoing trials and research registers, screened reference lists, and contacted trialists to identify further trials.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled and cross-over trials of treadmill training and body weight support, individually or in combination, for the treatment of walking after stroke.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently selected trials, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias and methodological quality. The primary outcomes investigated were walking speed, endurance, and dependency.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 56 trials with 3105 participants in this updated review. The average age of the participants was 60 years, and the studies were carried out in both inpatient and outpatient settings. All participants had at least some walking difficulties and many could not walk without assistance. Overall, the use of treadmill training did not increase the chances of walking independently compared with other physiotherapy interventions (risk difference (RD) -0.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.02 to 0.02; 18 trials, 1210 participants; P = 0.94; I² = 0%; low-quality evidence). Overall, the use of treadmill training in walking rehabilitation for people after stroke increased the walking velocity and walking endurance significantly. The pooled mean difference (MD) (random-effects model) for walking velocity was 0.06 m/s (95% CI 0.03 to 0.09; 47 trials, 2323 participants; P < 0.0001; I² = 44%; moderate-quality evidence) and the pooled MD for walking endurance was 14.19 metres (95% CI 2.92 to 25.46; 28 trials, 1680 participants; P = 0.01; I² = 27%; moderate-quality evidence). Overall, the use of treadmill training with body weight support in walking rehabilitation for people after stroke did not increase the walking velocity and walking endurance at the end of scheduled follow-up. The pooled MD (random-effects model) for walking velocity was 0.03 m/s (95% CI -0.05 to 0.10; 12 trials, 954 participants; P = 0.50; I² = 55%; low-quality evidence) and the pooled MD for walking endurance was 21.64 metres (95% CI -4.70 to 47.98; 10 trials, 882 participants; P = 0.11; I² = 47%; low-quality evidence). In 38 studies with a total of 1571 participants who were independent in walking at study onset, the use of treadmill training increased the walking velocity significantly. The pooled MD (random-effects model) for walking velocity was 0.08 m/s (95% CI 0.05 to 0.12; P < 0.00001; I2 = 49%). There were insufficient data to comment on any effects on quality of life or activities of daily living. Adverse events and dropouts did not occur more frequently in people receiving treadmill training and these were not judged to be clinically serious events.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Overall, people after stroke who receive treadmill training, with or without body weight support, are not more likely to improve their ability to walk independently compared with people after stroke not receiving treadmill training, but walking speed and walking endurance may improve slightly in the short term. Specifically, people with stroke who are able to walk (but not people who are dependent in walking at start of treatment) appear to benefit most from this type of intervention with regard to walking speed and walking endurance. This review did not find, however, that improvements in walking speed and endurance may have persisting beneficial effects. Further research should specifically investigate the effects of different frequencies, durations, or intensities (in terms of speed increments and inclination) of treadmill training, as well as the use of handrails, in ambulatory participants, but not in dependent walkers.

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