A new approach to retrain gait in stroke patients through body weight support and treadmill stimulation

M Visintin, H Barbeau, N Korner-Bitensky, N E Mayo
Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation 1998, 29 (6): 1122-8

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: A new gait training strategy for patients with stroke proposes to support a percentage of the patient's body weight while retraining gait on a treadmill. This research project intended to compare the effects of gait training with body weight support (BWS) and with no body weight support (no-BWS) on clinical outcome measures for patients with stroke.

METHODS: One hundred subjects with stroke were randomized to receive one of two treatments while walking on a treadmill: 50 subjects were trained to walk with up to 40% of their body weight supported by a BWS system with overhead harness (BWS group), and the other 50 subjects were trained to walk bearing full weight on their lower extremities (no-BWS group). Treatment outcomes were assessed on the basis of functional balance, motor recovery, overground walking speed, and overground walking endurance.

RESULTS: After a 6-week training period, the BWS group scored significantly higher than the no-BWS group for functional balance (P = 0.001), motor recovery (P = 0.001), overground walking speed (P = 0.029), and overground w alking endurance (P = 0.018). The follow-up evaluation, 3 months after training, revealed that the BWS group continues to have significantly higher scores for overground walking speed (P = 0.006) and motor recovery (P = 0.039).

CONCLUSIONS: Retraining gait in patients with stroke while a percentage of their body weight was supported resulted in better walking abilities than gait training while the patients were bearing their full weight. This novel gait training strategy provides a dynamic and integrative approach for the treatment of gait dysfunction after stroke.

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