Ankle and foot splints can help stroke patients regain the ability to walk and keep their balance, says a new study.
Although splints - also called orthotics - offer less improvement for other activities, like climbing stairs, wrist splints, however, do not lead to signs of improvement in the hands or arms, according to the study.
"A stroke causes weakness of one side of the body, making it difficult to move the affected arm and leg in everyday activities like walking or eating," said co-author Sarah Tyson, Ph.D.
"One common way to manage this problem is using a splint to control movement at weak joints, especially the wrist or the ankle. We undertook a Cochrane Review to clarify whether the splints were effective and to make recommendations about how they should be used in practice," the researcher added.
To reach the conclusion, the reviewers analyzed 14 clinical studies involving 429 participants. The leg splint studies looked for improvement in walking speed, balance and step/stride length. They also assessed foot drop during the swing phase of walking.
"The results for lower-limb splints show that they can improve walking and balance, at least in the short term. This is something of a surprise as, traditionally, physiotherapists have been reluctant to prescribe them, as it was felt orthotics may have a detrimental effect. However, views have been slowly shifting in the last few years as the body of evidence supporting their use has emerged," Tyson said.
The new review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research.