A new study from the University of Florida (UF), the largest stroke rehabilitation study in the US, says despite popular pessimism about stroke and its aftermath, patients can benefit from physical therapy long after their stroke.

After Hannah Bugg, 27, had a stroke in 2009 that left her paralyzed on her left side, she worked with therapists for 4 months and went from a wheelchair, to using a walker, then a cane. Six months post stroke she was able to walk unassisted. David Decker, MD, a stroke specialist with the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, said he sees many patients who do well if they continue their rehab. "People think if you don’t have it back soon after the stroke, you’re done. That’s simply not true,” said Decker, who treated Bugg.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that intensive therapy, particularly to regain the ability to walk, works even if it is delayed for six months and even if it is delivered at home.

Led by researchers from the department of physical therapy at UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, the study looked at 408 participants, ages 25 to 98, who couldn’t walk unassisted due to stroke.

They received intense physical therapy either in a clinic using a specially designed treadmill, or in their homes where they performed intense exercises focused on strength, balance, flexibility and range of motion.

Participants received 90 minutes of therapy, three times a week, for 12 to 16 weeks. "The program got more and more challenging as time went on," said Dorian Rose, research assistant professor of physical therapy and clinical research coordinator for the study.

The patients in the home-based group started two months after their strokes. The clinic-based group started at two or six months post-stroke. Researchers followed up with patients at 6 and 12 months post-stroke. Slightly more than half — 52% — of participants had made significant improvement in walking ability when evaluated one year after their stroke.

[Source: St. Petersburg Times]