New research published in NeuroRehabilitation suggests that robotic ankle assistance devices can prove useful for patients who are suffering from foot drop or balance issues after a stroke.
For their study, researchers were interested in learning how robotic assistance devices could help people improve after they have suffered a stroke. Researchers have long known that exercise is a great way to help people make a more significant recovery after a stroke, but what if the patient can’t safely exercise due to foot or balance problems caused by the stroke? That’s where the robotic assistance devices come in.
“Exercise is one of the main ways for patients who have had a stroke to regain movement,” said lead author Johnanna L. Chang of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. “The use of robotic assisted-devices can enhance the therapy by increasing the intensity of the motor experience. This interactive robotic device moves the paralyzed arm or leg when the patient cannot and gets out of the way when the patient powers the movement. In our study, the baseline or initial walking speed prior to therapy was an important factor in predicting the final walking speed.”
Robotic Walking Study
For their study, researchers recruited 29 patients who were suffering from foot drop or another walking abnormality caused by a stoke. Each patient had their initial gait and walking speed analyzed before they went through robotic assistance therapy. To ensure their study was as accurate as possible, patients were grouped into one of three walking speed classifications (high speed, medium speed, low speed) prior to therapy. Each patient then went through the robotic walking sessions three times a week for a period of six weeks.
At the conclusion of the six weeks, researchers uncovered:
- Patients in the high and medium walking speed groups reported significant improvements in walking speed.
- Patients in the high walking speed group progressed to the point where their new walking speed after therapy was considered “normal for ambulating patients in the community.”
- Patients in the high walking speed group continued to show improvements in walking speed even after robotic therapy ended.
- Patients in the low walking speed group exhibited the biggest change in improved balance after therapy.
Kevin J. Tracey, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Feinstein Institute, which conducted the research, concluded that the findings will help medical professionals develop a recovery plan suited to the individual after a stroke.
“Much like one medication is not effective for all patients with a certain condition, not all rehabilitation is beneficial to all,” said Tracey. “By understanding who can most benefit from robotic rehabilitation, medical professionals can better tailor a program that will result in the highest benefit for patients.”