Study adds new wrinkle to stroke recovery

Stroke recovery can be one of the most significant obstacles in the way of independent living for seniors. Physical therapy is often a main component of short term rehabilitation, but weak and damaged limbs can make it difficult. However, new research out of Canada's University of Victoria suggests a new method of therapy might offer considerable benefit.

The study, which was published in Experimental Brain Research, found that strength training - even on the side of the body not affected by the stroke - helps the overall rehabilitation process. The phenomenon is known as cross-education, and has been seen in healthy limbs, but this research is the first time it has been applied to stroke recovery.

To measure the effects of cross-education on stroke patients, the research team looked at participants who spent six weeks rigorously exercising their less-affected ankles. By the end of the study, the team noticed that both legs improved equally in terms of strength.

"I never imagined that it would come out like this," said E. Paul Zehr, a professor of kinesiology and neuroscience and senior author on the report. "The results exceeded any normal expectations."

While Zehr admits the findings are just preliminary, and researchers still need to do more work to investigate the impact on those more severely affected by stroke, it does open new doors when it comes to rehabilitation.

Strokes are one of the biggest threats to healthy aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 795,000 people are affected by strokes each year, and around 6.2 million people in the United States have had a stroke in their lifetime.