Arm Cycling Can Improve Walking After Stroke

MedicalResearch.com Interview with

Paul Zehr PhD Professor & Director Centre for Biomedical Research, Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, McKinnon Division of Medical Sciences Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD)| Affiliate, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, UBC

Dr. Zehr

E. Paul Zehr PhD
Professor & Director
Centre for Biomedical Research,
Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, McKinnon
Division of Medical Sciences
Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education
International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD)|
Affiliate, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, UBC

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: For many years we explored the role of the spinal cord in regulating rhythmic arm and leg movements like we do during walking, running and swimming.  Although we humans tend to move and locomote around on our two legs as bipeds, we are basically quadrupeds in terms of how our nervous system controls our limbs during walking. We have an extensive network of brain and spinal cord connections that help coordinate our limbs while we move. A lot of our work showed that using the arms rhythmically, like during arm cycling, strongly affected the activity of the spinal cord controlling leg muscles. Getting the spinal cord for leg muscles more coordinated and activated is a major goal of rehabilitation  of walking after neurotrauma so we wanted to see if training the arms could help with this. This is particularly important because a lot of the time, the arms are not engaged at all in rehabilitation training for the legs.

We found that after only 5 weeks of arm cycling (3 x 30 minutes each week), neural excitability, strength, and leg function were increased along with enhanced clinical tests of balance and walking ability.

 MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: The human nervous system is extremely responsive to training after stroke and creative whole body training is a preferred direction for rehabilitation. Also, our participants were years after their stroke event, highlighting the important point that there is no expiry date on neuroplasticity.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work 

Response: Always encourage folks to get involved in rehabilitation regardless of time after injury and be creative in thinking outside the constraints of typical treatments. In using this approach we showed the  somewhat counterintuitive outcome that the arms can help the legs get better at walking.

Citations:

Chelsea Kaupp, Gregory EP Pearcey, Taryn Klarner, Yao Sun, Trevor S Barss, Hilary Cullen, E. Paul Zehr. Rhythmic arm cycling training improves walking and neurophysiological integrity in chronic stroke-the arms can give legs a helping hand in rehabilitation. Journal of Neurophysiology, 2017; DOI: 10.1152/jn.00570.2017 

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