Having trunk stability has a lot to do with being able to walk. A strong core holds the rest of your body together, allowing balance as you move. It would seem like a no-brainer then that trunk exercises should theoretically help stroke patients recover their walking abilities. But whether or not this is true has yet to be scientifically proven.
Belgium researchers decided to investigate this once and for all. They reviewed eight studies that looked at the effect of trunk exercises on muscle thickness and activity. They wanted to see whether trunk exercises could improve these measures more effectively than other types of exercises.
The review of core exercises
They reviewed studies resulting in a total of 174 patients in the chronic phase after a stroke. 43 patients received unstable trunk training supplemented by a balance pad, physio ball, or tilting board and sling. The exercises involved things like dead bug position, upper and lower trunk flexion, bridging, extending and rotating the core, and sitting practices where the patients would weight shift or reach. One study used a unique technique called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which is a form of stretching isolated to a specific muscle or tendon.
Researchers found that these specific trunk exercises helped with rebalancing the back muscles. Many stroke patients suffer from asymmetric back muscles, due to the healthy side being stronger when compared to the affected side. Doing trunk exercises helped increase muscle thickness, especially on the side that needed it the most. The abs and the back muscles were most susceptible to improvements from these specialized trunk exercises.
The relation between core stability and walking
So far, it looks like trunk exercises do help you after a stroke, especially when it comes to reconditioning the back and ab muscles. However, we don’t know for sure if that translates to better walking. Though we know that trunk exercise helps us restore muscle, we don’t know whether it could improve the neurologic activation of said muscles. Without proper activation, trunk stability is poor whether or not you have enough muscle strength.
Researchers do note one thing that’s exciting for sure. It appears that trunk exercises could potentially help those who are in the chronic phase after a stroke. The patients who were studied were more than six months out after their stroke, a time when most of the rehabilitation has flat-lined and capped out.
It looks like there’s still hope for those who are in the chronic phase, as the research has found that trunk exercises can still restore the function of trunk muscles. Any sort of training that can benefit you in this chronic phase is worthy to take note of. Why not give it a try? Talk with your doctor and therapist to see if trunk exercises can be incorporated into your rehabilitation program.
The lead author of this article is Tamaya Van Criekinge, from the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy in Wilrijk, Belgium.