Electrical foot massages help stroke victims walk again
Hong Kong researchers have found that a type of electrical foot massage can help stroke victims walk again. The finding may lead to the development of a new product for that specific purpose.
Polytechnic University researchers found that with electrical foot stimulation almost twice as many stroke victims regain their ability to walk.
The treatment works by applying electrical impulses to neurons in the feet, stimulating and strengthening healthy brain cells to take over the work of those damaged by the stroke. 'Our belief is that the effect of stimulation could be transmitted from the neurons in their feet back to their brain to strengthen the undamaged brain cells,' said Christina Hui-Chan Wan-ying, head of the research team.
'As our brain controls different motions, we can help patients retrain their brain and regain the maximum possible walking ability.'
She said patients would also have to undergo physiotherapy in addition to the electrical therapy.
A product that takes advantage of the team's findings would help patients return to a normal life and lower medical costs, said Professor Hui-Chan, who also heads the university's department of rehabilitation sciences.
A two-year study of 41 elderly stroke patients that began in 2000 found 85 per cent of patients who received electrical therapy regained walking ability compared with 53 per cent of those on placebo treatment and 46 per cent without therapy.
The patients received the therapy for eights weeks starting about a week after they were admitted to hospital.
'The therapy is designed to stimulate their remaining healthy brain cells at the start to help their future recovery,' said Professor Hui-Chan.
'However, we do not encourage patients to completely rely on the machine. Instead they should train themselves to regain their mobility by conventional physiotherapy.'
She said it would help cut medical costs if patients could regain the ability to walk and go home for follow-up treatment instead of staying bedridden in hospitals. The Hospital Authority says there were 26,150 new stroke cases in 2002. Professor Hui-Chan estimated that about 23,000 Hongkongers survive stroke every year.
'If their life expectancy is 10 years after stroke, then the accumulative total figure of stroke patients would be about 230,000 in Hong Kong,' she said. 'But overseas studied have shown that motor deficits are found in 80 to 90 per cent of all stroke survivors, including 43 per cent suffering from moderate to severe disabilities. So it would be important to help those patients to regain their mobility.'