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Recent studies advocated the use of active cycling coupled with functional electrical stimulation to induce neuroplasticity and enhance functional improvements in stroke adult patients. The aim of this work was to evaluate whether the benefits induced by such a treatment are superior to standard physiotherapy. A single-blinded randomized controlled trial has been performed on post-acute elderly stroke patients. Patients underwent FES-augmented cycling training combined with voluntary pedaling or standard physiotherapy. The intervention consisted of fifteen 30-minutes sessions carried out within 3 weeks. Patients were evaluated before and after training, through functional scales, gait analysis and a voluntary pedaling test. Results were compared with an age-matched healthy group. Sixteen patients completed the training. After treatment, a general improvement of all clinical scales was obtained for both groups. Only the mechanical efficiency highlighted a group effect in favor of the experimental group. Although a group effect was not found for any other cycling or gait parameters, the experimental group showed a higher percentage of change with respect to the control group (e.g. the gait velocity was improved of 35.4% and 25.4% respectively, and its variation over time was higher than minimal clinical difference for the experimental group only). This trend suggests that differences in terms of motor recovery between the two groups may be achieved increasing the training dose. In conclusion, this study, although preliminary, showed that FES-augmented active cycling training seems to be effective in improving cycling and walking ability in post-acute elderly stroke patients. A higher sample size is required to confirm results.
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