Walking is one of the most common difficulties that stroke survivors face. That’s why one of the main goals of rehabilitation is to improve it. Treadmill training is widely used by specialists to help patients improve their walking. But, new research shows that it may be less helpful than we initially thought.
How effective are treadmills?
In the past, therapists thought treadmill exercise was the best way to help stroke patients regain their ability to walk. Turns out that this may actually be a myth. Scientists from Dresden, Germany recently conducted a careful review investigating benefits of treadmill therapy compared to other methods of walking practice. After reviewing more than 50 scientific studies, they were surprised to find that treadmill training added no improvement in a patient’s chance of regaining the ability to walk after a stroke. When going through normal physical therapy, use of a treadmill made no long-term difference in walking improvement of stroke patients.
That’s not to say that treadmills are bad. If anything, treadmills are just as good as regular walking for stroke patients in rehabilitation. Some patients who are already able to walk might even benefit with minor improvements in speed and endurance, though there was no evidence that these effects were long-lasting. Many physical therapists often choose to exercise their patients on treadmills simply due to the convenience. In addition, some specialized exercises may be easier for therapists to supervise on a treadmill.
However, if you had heard that you might need a treadmill to improve your walking, think again. Based on this scientific review, it seems that treadmills may not be as helpful as we thought they were. Thus, there’s no need to use one if you don’t have one available, especially when you can get the same or better benefits by walking outside. The bottom line, lace-up and get outside!
The lead author of this study was Dr Jan Mehrholz of the Department of Public Health, Dresden Medical School, Technical University Dresden, Germany.