Large NIH-funded rehabilitation study looks at getting stroke patients back on their feet
New research compares physical therapy options for stroke survivors. Stroke patients who had intense physical therapy at home improved their ability to walk just as much as those in a training program with a treadmill device. The study also shows that stroke patients can continue to improve up to one year after stroke, offering new hope to patients and their families.
Ehrhardt: More than four million stroke survivors experience difficulty walking. New research tests physical therapy options for these stroke survivors, with encouraging results.
Koroshetz: Many stroke patients will benefit from more intensive therapy than they are probably receiving.
Ehrhardt: Dr. Walter Koroshetz is Deputy Director of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. He says standard and more intense types of physical therapy have been tested in the study.
Koroshetz: Both of the intense physical therapy programs performed better than the standard-of-care program.
Ehrhardt: Dr. Koroshetz explains that the largest stroke rehabilitation study ever conducted in the United States compared three types of physical therapy.
Koroshetz: One is called standard-of-care, which is the outpatient physical therapy sessions that are generally prescribed to patients after stroke. The second was an intensive, treadmill-based locomotor therapy…
Ehrhardt: Locomotor therapy employs a harness that partially supports body weight, suspending a patient over a treadmill. This high-tech therapy is increasingly popular.
Koroshetz: And the third one is a strength and balance exercise therapy that’s done by a physical therapist, but it's done in the patient's home. So those were the three that were looked at: two intensive and one standard.
Ehrhardt: Dr. Koroshetz says that the intense at-home sessions and the treadmill training program were equally effective forms of physical therapy.
Koroshetz: Both of the intensive therapies performed equally well.
Ehrhardt: At the end of one year, 52 percent of all the study participants had made significant improvements in their ability to walk. Dr. Koroshetz adds that the study gives new reason for hope.
Koroshetz: There is a general notion that the recovery after stroke tends to plateau out somewhere between three and six months.
Ehrhardt: But the study shows that patients can continue to improve six months to a year after stroke, despite the conventional wisdom that improvement stops at three to six months.
Koroshetz: The institution of intensive therapy at the six month time period actually caused a great deal of benefit in the patients. They benefitted from the intensive therapy even six months after the stroke, which I think is a surprise to many people.
Ehrhardt: Dr. Koroshetz says rigorously comparing available physical therapy treatments is essential to determine which is best. He adds that NIH-funded studies of stroke are ongoing.
Koroshetz: We’re always looking for more clever ways in which we can aid the brain in its recovery process.
Ehrhardt: For more information on stroke, neurological disorders, and this study, visit www.ninds.nih.gov. This is Britt Ehrhardt at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Britt Ehrhardt
Sound Bite: Dr. Walter Koroshetz, Deputy Director, NINDS
Topic: stroke, physical therapy, rehabilitation, locomotor training, treadmill