Gait training during stroke rehabilitation helps patients relearn how to walk.
Because walking is essential to performing the activities of daily living, gait training is a staple during inpatient stroke rehabilitation.
But once you’re discharged from inpatient rehab, you will be forced to continue gait training at home.
To help you regain independence as fast as possible, we’ve outlined 6 of the best gait training strategies to use at home.
Let’s get started.
Best Methods for Gait Training in Stroke Rehabilitation
The word ‘gait’ simply refers to your manner of walking and ‘gait training’ refers to a type of physical therapy that helps improve your ability to stand and walk.
The following methods for gait training are often used by physical and occupational therapists in the clinic.
1. Strength Training
To help improve your walking abilities, gait training often includes strength training exercises for your lower extremities.
Some examples of strength training gait exercises include shifting body weight between each leg, standing on one leg, calf raises, and other repetitive exercises that strengthen specific muscle groups.
Repetition is the key to recovering through exercise. When you repeat a movement over and over it helps create new pathways in the brain, and you’ll progress faster.
Does strength training worsen spasticity?
Strength training was once thought to worsen spasticity, the condition of muscle stiffness after stroke that often inhibits your gait.
However, during the last decade, we discovered that intensive strength training actually improves walking and has not been found to increase spasticity.
Studies show that a 6 week muscle training program was found to improve walking speed in stroke patients, and leg spasticity was not increased.
2. Balance and Core Training
When we think of gait training, our minds tend to focus solely on the legs.
But walking is a full-body function that can be improve by training your legs, core, and balance.
Therefore, a gait training exercise program should involve both leg and core exercises to improve balance.
See these free stroke exercise guides from us at Flint Rehab to get started:
- Strengthening balance exercises for stroke patients
- Leg exercises for stroke patients
- Core exercises for stroke patients
3. Task-Specific Training
Exercises that directly involve walking are considered task-specific gait training.
These exercises can included treadmill training, with or without body-weight support, and intensive mobility training.
Body-weight-supported treadmill training can be effective… but also expensive, requiring a pricey at-home unit or a facility with specialized equipment.
Intensive Mobility Training
Intensive mobility gait training involves an aerobic component where the patient continuously performs a movement at moderate intensity.
This could involve riding a stationary bicycle or repeatedly getting up and sitting down in a chair.
As long as sweat and repetition are involved, it’s intensive mobility training.
Booster Techniques to Improve Gait in Stroke Patients
Aside from the core techniques above, the following booster techniques can be used to improve gait in stroke patients.
4. Functional Electrical Stimulation
Electrical stimulation during stroke rehabilitation helps stimulate the brain and facilitate the development of new neural connections (i.e. neuroplasticity).
There are many studies showing that electrical stimulation combined with gait training can be an effective rehabilitation strategy.
In one study, researchers applied electrical stimulation during fast walking, which proved to be an effective gait rehabilitation strategy.
In another study, the combination of functional electrical stimulation during treadmill training seemed to improve gait pattern in stroke patients.
If you’re interested in using electrical stimulation to improve your gait after stroke, talk to your therapist. (S)he will be able to help you determine if it’s safe for you – and if safe, where the electrodes should be placed.
5. Assistive Technology
During the average stroke recovery timeline, 65-85% of stroke patients relearn how to walk independently about 6 months after stroke.
Because gait training is a slow process, it’s important to reinforce your safety during the activities of daily living.
Assistive technology like AFO braces, canes, and walkers can be used to help stroke patients navigate safely while gait training is underway.
It’s important to note that assistive technology should be used short-term, not long-term, otherwise the compensation technique can impair a full recovery.
If stroke patients become too reliant on assistive technology, they may neglect gait training exercises and therefore become reliant upon their tools.
In order to achieve the highest recovery possible, stroke patients must stay aware of compensation techniques and use discernment when it’s time to outgrow them.
The Benefits of Gait Training during Stroke Rehabilitation
The short-term goal of gait training is to help prevent falling after stroke, because strong legs can help with stabilization if you lose balance.
The long-term goal is to get you back onto your feet walking independently and confidently once again.
These goals are accomplished using two main types of training: strength training gait exercises and task-specific training like treadmill training.
You can add booster techniques, like electrical stimulation and assistive technology, to the mix with your therapist’s approval.
By using these methods, you can relearn how to walk and reclaim your independence after stroke.