Intensive task specific training early after stroke may enhance beneficial neuroplasticity and functional recovery. Impaired gait after hemiparetic stroke remains a challenge that may be approached early after stroke by use of novel technology. The aim of the study was to investigate the safety and feasibility of the exoskeleton Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) for intensive gait training as part of a regular inpatient rehabilitation program for hemiparetic patients with severely impaired gait early after stroke.
Eligible were patients until 7 weeks after hemiparetic stroke. Training with HAL was performed 5 days per week by the autonomous and/or the voluntary control mode offered by the system. The study protocol covered safety and feasibility issues and aspects on motor function, gait performance according to the 10 Meter Walking Test (10MWT) and Functional Ambulation Categories (FAC), and activity performance.
Eight patients completed the study. Median time from stroke to inclusion was 35 days (range 6 to 46). Training started by use of the autonomous HAL mode in all and later switched to the voluntary mode in all but one and required one or two physiotherapists. Number of training sessions ranged from 6 to 31 (median 17) and walking time per session was around 25 minutes. The training was well tolerated and no serious adverse events occurred. All patients improved their walking ability during the training period, as reflected by the 10MWT (from 111.5 to 40 seconds in median) and the FAC (from 0 to 1.5 score in median).