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December 05, 2012

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Brain To Brawn - Training One Leg Strengthens Both After Stroke

High-intensity strength training could have remarkable potential for helping recover mobility after a stroke, new UVic research indicates.

The notion of cross-education of strength—training one side of the body achieves strength gains in the corresponding muscles on the other side—has had considerable study since it was first discovered in the late 1800s. Typically, the corresponding strength gain in the non-trained side is about half of the improvement on the trained side.

But a recent study led by Dr. E. Paul Zehr, professor of neuroscience in the Division of Medical Sciences and School of Exercise Science at UVic, showed remarkable results in post-stroke patients. Training on the less-affected side of the body achieved equivalent strength gains (about 30 per cent) on both sides. The researchers had predicted about a 5-10 per cent strength gain.

“I never imagined that it would come out like this,” says Zehr. “The results exceeded any normal expectations.”

The results of the study, the first time the theory was tested for stroke sufferers, are to be published in the journal Experimental Brain Research, and are already online.

Zehr notes that the results show huge potential for neurological rehabilitation because the strength gain was equal on both sides, but also because the training effect was shown well after a stroke event. Of 19 study participants, many were years after a stroke event and the average was 80 months after a stroke.

The study focused on the legs with an eye toward walking recovery. Zehr says the next steps are to test cross-education of strength in the upper body “to come at the more affected leg from different angles” and work toward integrating the practice into a full walking retraining program.


  Media Contacts:

Dr. E. Paul Zehr (Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory) at pzehr@uvic.ca
Mitch Wright (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or mwwright@uvic.ca

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