Pilot trial assesses sensory stimulation as a treatment for improving mobility in stroke survivors

Keele University researchers have completed the first phase of trials for treatments which aim to improve outcomes for stroke survivors that are learning to walk again.

A pilot trial led by Keele’s Dr Alison Aries as part of a National Institute for Health Research Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship assessed how acceptable and feasible sensory stimulation therapy is as a treatment for stroke survivors to increase their mobility.

The trial looked at whether sensory stimulation, either through massage of the foot and lower limbs or use of a textured insole, can increase the potential for stroke survivors to walk again in addition to traditional physiotherapy techniques. Although these methods are often used by therapists, they have never formally been tested before with stroke patients.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neurology | Stroke, paves the way to improve the quality of life for thousands of stroke survivors and could allow them to regain independence, whilst also reducing potential costs for the NHS in the care needed to support patients and their families.

There are more than 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK alone with between 65-85% of survivors being left with the inability to detect feeling and sensations in parts of the body such as the leg and foot, making the performance of everyday tasks, including independent walking, extremely difficult.

As part of the trial, Dr Aries delivered 20 one-to-one treatment sessions over a six-week period with 34 individuals who had suffered a stroke in any part of the brain within the previous 6 to 16 weeks.

The participants were split into two groups, with half receiving 30-60 minutes of mobilization and tactile stimulation and the other half wearing textured insoles in their shoes for unlimited amounts of time. All patients then carried out 30 minutes walking training, known as Task Specific Gait Training.

The study showed that this approach is acceptable and tolerated by patients, with most participants reporting both interventions to be comfortable with no adverse effects. Further research is now needed to test effectiveness and whether mobility is increased in patients as a result of the sensory stimulation therapy as opposed to the use of traditional walking training alone.

It is fantastic to be leading this important work exploring sensory retraining to the lower limb and foot, with the aim of improving balance and walking post-stroke. I would like to thank the whole research team who made this work possible; in particular, my thanks go to Dr Sue Hunter for all her support and guidance. I would also like to acknowledge the NIHR for funding this essential work."

Dr Alison Aries, Keele University

Source:
Journal reference:

Aries, A.M., et al. (2021) Sensory Stimulation of the Foot and Ankle Early Post-stroke: A Pilot and Feasibility Study. Frontiers in Neurology. doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.675106.

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