Friday, May 17, 2013

Is walking right after stroke good?

I've been involved in stroke recovery research for a long time. And I do a lot of seminars on stroke recovery. A lot of clinicians that come to the seminars take this posture: Just tell me what the treatment options are and how to do them. This demand assumes that there are a lot of treatment options. It also assumes that those treatment options are "proven." And it assumes that things can be made simple and immediately clinically applicable.

Overall the posture suggests Dunning Kruger effect. The Dunning Kruger effect is simple and measurable:

1. The less you know about a subject, the more you estimate you know.
2. The more you know about a subject, the less you estimate you know.

The Dunning Kruger effect in action: You ask two people about galaxies; one is an astrophysicist, the other is a six-year-old. The astrophysicist says, "There so much more that we need to discover. We're not even sure how many there are." You ask a six-year-old and he says, "I know all about galaxies. There is a moon, and he goes up and down, and it squiggles, and then there's the Earth and the sun goes around and around and you can take a spaceship to it."

The Dunning Kruger effect in post stroke rehabilitation

We don't know much about what helps stroke survivors recover. There. I said it. That there is a lot of confusion about what helps stroke survivors recover does not sit well with rehabilitation clinicians. And one of the reasons it does not sit well is that there are a lot of folks that try to sell treatment options that are "proven." This mucks up the waters. Let's say you're a therapist looking for answers. Are you going to listen to the person who says "Well, we really don't know, we're not really sure, none of this is proven, but this is what we think..." or are you going to listen to the person who says, "I have this great thing that works and it's super fantastic and it works all the time." The folks who are real sure that their treatment option is the bees knees of stroke rehab are often out to sell something. Like a machine, or a "pay us to learn" technique. But those of us in the research game are more equivocal.

In other words, the thing that research does, which is discover things layer by layer in a slow plodding scientific process, is not very satisfying.

Let me give you an example. I got an e-mail recently from a therapist who had been to the seminar. This therapist asked a very specific question: "Is very early mobilization after stroke good or not?"

Mobilization means "Getting them up and walking." "Very early" is a designation that means within the first 24 hours of the first symptoms of stroke. Simple question, right? The answer should either be yes. Or it could be no.

Except it's neither. It's "We don't know." In the few studies that have been done on this subject (there are ongoing studies which might provide more clarity) the conclusion is, we don't know. On one hand, it is commonly believed that many problems early after stroke are caused by immobilization. Problems caused by lack of early movement/walking include infections (especially in the lungs) and blood clots breaking off and causing all kinds of vascular problems. Further, getting somebody up and walking after stroke, especially in animal experiments, seems to help promote brain plasticity.

The problem is that the brain is very vulnerable after stroke. And one of the things it's vulnerable to is decreased blood flow. And when somebody is in an upright position is decreased blood flow to the brain. 

A quick review of lit...
There. Does that clear things up?

1 comment:

Jim Sparks said...

As a stroke survivor, in my opinion it's preferable to be told the complex and disappointing truth than the simple and misleading lie, even if that lie is well intentioned.

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