Objectives: To identify stroke patients who are most likely to benefit from locomotor training with body-weight support (BWS), to determine the extent of carryover from treadmill training to overground locomotion, and to determine the variables that are most likely to influence the recovery of locomotion.
Design: A randomized clinical trial.
Setting: Inpatient rehabilitation hospital.
Participants: Of 100 stroke subjects, 50 were randomized to receive locomotor training with BWS (BWS group), and 50 were randomized to receive locomotor training with full weight bearing (no-BWS group). The subjects were stratified according to their initial overground walking speed and endurance, initial treadmill speed and endurance, functional balance, motor recovery, side of the lesion, and age.
Intervention: Fifty subjects were trained to walk on a treadmill with up to 40% of their body weight supported by a BWS system with an overhead harness (BWS group), and 50 subjects were trained to walk while bearing their full weight (no-BWS group).
Main outcome measures: Clinical outcome measures included overground walking speed and endurance, functional balance, and motor recovery. The effect of confounding variables such as age, comorbidity, and depression on locomotor outcome was also investigated.
Results: After 6 weeks of locomotor training, the BWS group scored significantly higher in all clinical outcomes. When the subjects were stratified according to their initial overground walking speed, endurance, balance, and motor recovery, a significant statistical difference in gait and balance dysfunction of all outcomes occurred in the more severely impaired subjects. An important transfer from treadmill speed to overground walking speed was observed in subjects in the BWS group. Finally, a significantly greater effect was observed in older subjects (65-85y) in the BWS group.
Conclusions: Retraining gait in severely impaired stroke subjects with a percentage of their body weight supported resulted in better walking and postural abilities than did gait training in patients bearing their full weight. It appears that subjects with greater gait impairments benefited the most from training with BWS, as did the older patients with stroke. There is evidence of transfer from treadmill training to overground locomotion.