Oct. 7, 2004 -- Stroke recovery may be improved by walking at fast paces, Canadian researchers say.
When it comes to stroke recovery, intensity is the key, like athletes training for a sport, says researcher Anouk Lamontagne, PhD, PT, in a news release. "That's not something we have done before in these patients."
Lamontagne and Joyce Fung, PhD, PT, of the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, report their findings in the November issue of the journal Stroke.
The pair studied 12 stroke patients who were 70 years old, on average, in a rehabilitation program for stroke recovery.
All were first-time stroke patients who were left with being very weak on one side of their body. Each could walk five consecutive steps by themselves or with a walking aid.
Stroke Recovery on the Fast Track
Before the stroke recovery experiment, the researchers categorized patients into two groups: High-functioning stroke patients could walk between 1.5 feet and 2.5 feet per second, and low-functioning stroke patients who had a maximum speed of 1.5 feet per second.
Stroke recovery with rehabilitation traditionally involves walking on a treadmill at a pace preferred by the patient, which is typically slow.
Lamontagne and Fung tried a different approach.
Instead of a treadmill, they used a walkway that was 33 feet long. Safely tucked into the body harness, each stroke patient walked at a pace of their own choosing and also at their top speed.
Researchers cheered on the stroke patients, urging them during the speed test to walk as quickly as if they were trying to catch a bus.
Participants were even allowed to run, if they wanted. The researchers also let them rest as needed.
Fast walking with full body weight yielded a 165% increase in speed for all stroke patients. But the biggest increase for all stroke patients came from fast walking combined with partial body weight support. Under those conditions, slower stroke patients revved up their speed by 258% and high-functioning stroke patients boosted their pace by 95%.
The easiest test -- walking with partial body weight support at the patients' preferred pace -- only boosted the speed of low-functioning patients.
Don't Try This Stroke Recovery Technique at Home
Patients undergoing stroke recovery can increase their overground walking speed two to three times beyond comfortable levels, given proper instruction and a safe environment, say the researchers.
However, fast walking isn't recommended during stroke recovery for patients not supervised at appropriately equipped rehabilitation facilities. It's also not advised for those with other health issues, such as heart problems or pain.
Every 45 seconds, someone in America has a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. Stroke is the nation's No. 3 killer, behind heart disease and cancer. This study shows that more intense treatment during stroke recovery may help ease some of the long-term disability that often stems from having a stroke.