New Research Highlights Underwater Treadmill Benefits for Stroke Sufferers
Every year, nearly 800,000 Americans suffer from strokes. Of the roughly 82.5% who survive, the majority struggle with ambulation challenges. Although many do recover some mobility, they are often left with abnormal gait problems. Those gait problems can then lead to other challenges, such as pain caused by improper pressure on other areas of the body and weight gain.
Rehabilitation for stroke sufferers is necessary to lessen the chance of falls and injury. It also helps to prevent muscle, tendon and ligament strain due to poor gait habits and minimal exercise. Proper rehab also improves stroke victims’ overall quality of life by making it easier for them to safely, comfortably and freely engage in activities of daily living. Though land-based treadmills have been regularly used for physical therapy purposes, a breakthrough study from researchers at the Republic of Korea’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and Jeju National University School of Medicine, Jeju National University Hospital shows that underwater treadmills may be a better early intervention fit for those who have had stroke episodes.
The study, “Peak Cardiorespiratory Responses of Patients with Subacute Stroke During Land and Aquatic Treadmill Exercise”, was released to the public in August 2016. It focused on evaluating 21 subjects who had experienced stroke within two years of the paper’s research. During the research process, the subjects’ peak VO2, metabolic equivalents, perceived exertion and heart rates were documented during exercise on land-based treadmills and aquatic treadmills. The results were fascinating and dovetail with other research done on aquatic therapy:
- Peak VO2 was higher on the aquatic treadmill.
- Metabolic equivalents were higher on the aquatic treadmill.
- Perceived exertion was higher on the aquatic treadmill.
- Heart rates were similar on both the aquatic and land-based treadmill.
These findings are particularly notable due to water’s unique properties and usefulness when helping stroke sufferers who have limited ambulatory capacities. A water-based modality allows for early intervention, even if the patient has virtually no mobility to safely exercise on land. In the water, the patient’s body weight can be offset by up to 80%, enabling security and eliminating the chances of injury during rehab.
As regular HydroWorx users know, physical therapists throughout the United States are already taking advantage of water’s advantages for their stroke clients. One great example of stroke early intervention using an underwater treadmill is Chuck Ciraolo’s case. After his stroke, he was told he would never be able to lead an active life again and might be relegated to a vegetative state. Through hard work and consistent movements in a HydroWorx therapy pool at Pieters Family Life Center in Rochester, NY, he is now able to ride his bike, mow his lawn and support his community through volunteering.
Another case from Pieters Family Life Center is that of Lois Jordan who was given dire expectations of a very limited life after her stroke. Within five months, she was able to progress from paralysis to being able to move freely on an underwater treadmill, and ambulate more confidently on land using an assistive device.
At the conclusion of “Peak Cardiorespiratory Responses of Patients with Subacute Stroke During Land and Aquatic Treadmill Exercise” , authors Lee, Kim and Han noted that, “Aquatic treadmill exercise may be a useful option for early intensive aerobic exercise after subacute stroke, as it may improve both . . . aerobic capacity and . . . functional recovery.” As more researchers study the value of aquatic therapy featuring underwater treadmills, it will be fascinating to read about other compelling arguments for all physical therapy programs to incorporate water-based sessions into their stroke patients’ treatment protocols.