Question: Does mechanically assisted walking with body weight support result in more independent walking and is it detrimental to walking speed or capacity in non-ambulatory patients early after stroke? Design: Systematic review with meta-analysis of randomised trials. Participants: Non-ambulatory adult patients undergoing inpatient rehabilitation up to 3 months after stroke. Intervention: Mechanically assisted walking (eg, treadmill, electromechanical gait trainer, robotic device, servo-motor) with body weight support (eg, harness with or without handrail, but not handrail alone) versus assisted overground walking of longer than 15 min duration. Outcome measures: The primary outcome was the proportion of participants achieving independent walking. Secondary outcomes were walking speed measured as m/s during the 10-m Walk Test and walking capacity measured as distance in m during the 6-min Walk Test. Results: Six studies comprising 549 participants were identified and included in meta-analyses. Mechanically assisted walking with body weight support resulted in more people walking independently at 4 weeks (RD 0.23, 95% CI 0.15 to 0.30) and at 6 months (RD 0.23, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.39), faster walking at 6 months (MD 0.12 m/s, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.21), and further walking at 6 months (MD 55 m, 95% CI 15 to 96) than assisted overground walking. Conclusion: Mechanically assisted walking with body weight support is more effective than overground walking at increasing independent walking in non-ambulatory patients early after stroke. Furthermore, it is not detrimental to walking speed or capacity and clinicians should therefore be confident about implementing this intervention.
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