Recovery from stroke indeed 'a long walk'
Stepping up walking practice is the only way to improve walking ability for stroke survivors, according to a new large-scale study led by University of South Australia researchers.
The Circuit Class Therapy and seven-day week therapy for intensive rehabilitation after stroke (CIRCIT) trial found that increasing physiotherapy sessions for stroke survivors receiving rehabilitation did not lead to a faster recovery time in terms of walking ability.
Given that one in every six Australians will have a stroke during their lifetime, co-investigator of the study Dr Coralie English says getting stroke rehabilitation services right is vital.
"Right now half a million Australians are living with a stroke-related disability. It's critical that we are offering the best rehabilitation to ensure stroke survivors have the best quality of life," Dr English said.
"Our study looked at whether providing stroke survivors with weekend physiotherapy services, or providing group circuit class therapy during the week, would increase physiotherapy time and therefore improve people's ability to walk.
"But when we compared those with increased physiotherapy to the control group, who received usual care physiotherapy, we found that all participants achieved the same level of walking ability four weeks later."
Dr English, who worked on the study with colleagues from UniSA's Stroke and Rehabilitation Research Group, says the clear message from the study is that only increased walking practice will help stroke survivors get back on their feet.
"When we looked at what was happening within physiotherapy sessions, there was very little difference in how much time people spent actually practising walking," she says.
"While we can increase therapy services, unless we can increase walking practice, we will not see a benefit in terms of recovery of walking ability.
"That said, having extra physiotherapy time may have other benefits for people in rehabilitation – people can become bored and frustrated if they don't have enough to do while in hospital.
"So there are many other reasons why we might want to increase therapy time during the week or provide weekend service."
Dr English will deliver her findings to over 3000 delegates at a plenary session at the World Congress of NeuroRehabilitation in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 April.