In Baltimore, Maryland, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a research hospital has developed a special kind of treadmill to help retrain stroke survivors and other victims of brain injuries to learn to walk normally again. The treadmill contains a split belt. One side can move one foot backward and the other moves forward and can move at different speeds. The brain must automatically adjust to these different rhythms and directions to keep the person from falling down.

Patients who have a limp start to walk normally again a few minutes after the treadmill stops and temporarily change their walking patterns. The researchers are now looking into making the change permanent. Further tests will be done in a government-funded study that puts 40 stroke survivors through longer sessions on the treadmill to see if practice helps them permanently change their walk. If successful, they will then move on to helping children recovering from major brain surgery.

The key to the success of this treatment is through plastic city, a condition of the brain to adapt and reorganize itself. This process is usually easier for younger people, but it still is capable of working in older people. In the past, scientists have helped stroke victims regain strength in weakened arms by tying down the good arm and forcing them to only use their weak arm so as to strengthen it.

However, little research as been done to improve leg use until now. Another key is to get the patients started with this therapy immediately. Those who begin walking with a limp soon trains their body to think that this gait is normal. The sooner the habit is broken, the better these patients will improve.


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