Results of a recent UK study throw doubt on the benefit of physiotherapy as stroke rehabilitation.
The researchers looked at 146 patients, all of whom had had a stroke within the past year and had stroke-related mobility problems such as a reduced gait or frequent falls. Patients received either physiotherapy or no treatment.
After three months, physiotherapy resulted in small improvements, particularly in gait speed, but these were not significant and, more important, not long-lasting.
At follow-up at six and nine months, there was no difference between the two groups of patients. Also, the treatment did not improve the patients' daily or social activities, or feelings of anxiety or depression, or the number of falls the patients experienced.
What the study doesn't take into account, however, is the amount of time that passed between the stroke and the physiotherapy. Past evidence indicates that rehabilitation interventions are most successful when begun immediately after a stroke.
A more useful study may have been produced had the researchers begun treatment immediately after a stroke. The results, both physical and emotional, may then have been different (Lancet, 2002; 359: 199-203).