Background: After inpatient stroke rehabilitation, many people still cannot participate in community activities because of limited walking ability.
Objective: To compare the effectiveness of 2 conceptually different, early physical therapy (PT) interventions to usual care (UC) in improving walking 6 months after stroke.
Methods: The locomotor experience applied post-stroke (LEAPS) study was a single-blind, randomized controlled trial conducted in 408 adults with disabling hemiparetic stroke. Participants were stratified at baseline (2 months) by impairment in walking speed: severe (<0.4 m/s) or moderate (0.4 to <0.8 m/s). Between 2 and 6 months, they received either only UC (n = 143) or UC plus 36 therapist-provided sessions of either (1) walking training on a treadmill using body-weight support and practice overground at clinics (locomotor training program [LTP], n = 139) or (2) impairment-based strength and balance exercise at home (home exercise program [HEP], n = 126).
Results: LTP participants were 18% more likely to transition to a higher functional walking level: severe to >0.4 m/s and moderate to >0.8 m/s than UC participants (95% confidence interval [CI] = 7%-29%), and HEP participants were 17% more likely to transition (95% CI = 5%-29%). Mean gain in walking speed in LTP participants was 0.13 m/s greater (95% CI = 0.09-0.18) and in HEP participants, 0.10 m/s greater (95% CI = 0.05-0.14) than in UC participants.
Conclusions: Progressive PT, using either walking training on a treadmill and overground, conducted in a clinic, or strength and balance exercises conducted at home, was superior to UC in improving walking, regardless of severity of initial impairment.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00243919.