April 2021

USC to Study Combining 2 Walking Rehab Approaches for Stroke Survivors

Physical therapists could soon have something new in their toolbox to improve outcomes for survivors of stroke whose gait has been affected, thanks to a $100,000 Magistro Family Foundation Research Grant awarded to a University of Southern California (USC) Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy research team, led by Kristan Leech, PhD, DPT, PT.

“The International Classification of Functioning, Health and Disability framework divides walking dysfunction into 2 domains: impaired walking patterns (e.g., kinematic deviations) and limited walking activity (eg, slow walking speeds),” Leech said. “Impaired walking patterns are typically addressed through biofeedback-based gait training that promotes intentional changes in voluntary movement. In contrast, the gold standard for improving limited walking activity is aerobic exercise intensity-based gait training.”

In the new study, USC researchers, including co-investigators James Finley, PhD, and Carolee Winstein, PhD, PT, FAPTA, aim to better understand how combining the 2 approaches might improve physical therapy outcomes. The study will consist of 2 separate experiments. In the first experiment, the investigators will compare the short-term effects of feeding back 3 different features of how someone walks to understand better which gait biofeedback variable is the most effective in eliciting the greatest walking pattern movement. In the second experiment, researchers will test the capacity of survivors of stroke to make biofeedback-driven walking pattern changes at 3 different aerobic intensities (or speeds) of walking.

“If successful, this work stands to improve the current standard of care in gait rehabilitation post-stroke by improving the efficiency and efficacy of physical therapy interventions—ultimately reducing disability in this increasing population,” Leech explained.

The study will take place over 2 years and will require 50 survivors of stroke to participate.

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