Implicit and Explicit Motor Learning Interventions Have Similar Effects on Walking Speed in People After Stroke: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Li-Juan Jie, Melanie Kleynen, Kenneth Meijer, Anna Beurskens, Susy Braun
Physical Therapy 2021 January 22

OBJECTIVE: Clinicians may use implicit or explicit motor learning approaches to facilitate motor learning of patients with stroke. Implicit motor learning approaches have shown promising results in healthy populations. The purpose of this study was to assess whether an implicit motor learning walking intervention is more effective compared to an explicit motor learning walking intervention delivered at home with regard to walking speed in people after stroke in the chronic phase of recovery.

METHODS: This randomized controlled single-blind trial was conducted in the home environment. The 79 participants, who were in the chronic phase after stroke (age = 66.4 [SD = 11.0] years; time poststroke = 70.1 [SD = 64.3] months; walking speed = 0.7 [SD = 0.3] m/s; Berg Balance Scale score = 44.5 [SD = 9.5]), were randomly assigned to an implicit (n = 38) or explicit (n = 41) group. Analogy learning was used as the implicit motor learning walking intervention, whereas the explicit motor learning walking intervention consisted of detailed verbal instructions. Both groups received 9 training sessions (30 minutes each) targeted at improving quality of walking, for a period of 3 weeks. The primary outcome was walking speed measured by the 10-Meter Walk Test at a comfortable walking pace. Outcomes were assessed at baseline, immediately after intervention, and 1 month postintervention.

RESULTS: No statistically or clinically relevant differences between groups were obtained postintervention (between-group difference was estimated at 0.02 m/s [95% CI -0.04 to 0.08] and at follow-up (between-group difference estimated at -0.02 m/s [95% CI -0.09 to 0.05]).

CONCLUSIONS: Implicit motor learning was not superior to explicit motor learning to improve walking speed in people after stroke in the chronic phase of recovery.

IMPACT: To our knowledge this is the first study to examine the effects of implicit compared to explicit motor learning on a functional task in people after stroke. Results indicate that physical therapists can use (tailored) implicit and explicit motor learning strategies to improve walking speed in people after stroke who are in the chronic phase of recovery.

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