|After a Stroke: The Expanding Role of Exercise in Promoting Recovery|
“The secret to recovery in stroke is to continue working on your balance, continue working on your upper extremities, continue working on your lower extremities,” said Pamela W. Duncan, a neurology professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., and co-leader of the Locomotor Experience Applied Post-Stroke (LEAPS) research project.
The LEAPS researchers had originally set out to determine whether supporting stroke victims in harnesses to help them walk on treadmills would improve mobility more effectively than structured physical therapy at home, assisted by a therapist.
But when they tested 408 stroke survivors, a large number for such a study, Duncan and her colleagues unexpectedly discovered that the harness and treadmill produced approximately the same results as the structured at-home therapy. Perhaps more interesting was another finding: A group of patients whose therapy was delayed for the purpose of comparison also showed marked improvement when their therapy began.
“No matter when you start an intense, progressive program, it works,” said Katherine J. Sullivan, a neuroscientist and an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Southern California, who led the LEAPS study with Duncan.
This is good news for stroke survivors, because delays in rehabilitation are inevitable for some who must be stabilized medically before they can attempt even minimal exercise.