Helping Stroke Patients Walk Again

8/11/2008 BALTIMORE, Md. It's still hard for Debbie Henry to understand the life altering stroke that left her hospitalized.

"I'm only 49 years old and this isn't supposed to happen to me," Henry says.

It's not supposed to be this hard to walk either.

"My knee is weak, but I have what they call foot drop," Henry explains.

Small steps are a struggle that leave her dizzy and breathless. But a new electrical stimulation device is helping. Electrodes are attached to Henry's leg, then the leg piece is wrapped around. A wireless handheld device sends mini shocks through the leg muscles.

"Little tingles I guess is the best way to describe it," Henry says.

These shocks stimulate muscle re-education.

"It stimulates the nerve and the muscle that allows a patient's toes to lift up to help with walking," says Tracy Saponara, a physical therapist at Kernan Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore.

The downside -- initially, the device takes a while to set up for each individual and is expensive if you buy it on your own -- about $6,000. But therapists say you can't argue with the results.

"It helps to bring the muscle activity back a few days faster," Saponara says.

Henry doesn't think about the cost.

"I have hope because I know I can walk," Henry says. "I know that one day I'm going to be able to walk."

Before this device, the only way to help patients learn to walk again was using either an ace wrap to splint the toes up or a plastic ankle/foot orthotic to do the same thing.

Karen Warmkessel
University of Maryland Medical Center
(410) 328-8919


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