How are balance and mobility problems after stroke treated in England? An observational study of the content, dose and context of physiotherapy

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Abstract

Objective:

To describe the dose, intensity and context of physiotherapy for balance and mobility problems after stroke.

Design:

Process mapping to describe the context and non-participant observation of therapy sessions to describe the dose and content of therapy.

Setting:

Four inpatient stroke units in North-West England.

Participants:

Therapy staff and previously mobile stroke survivors who were treating, or receiving treatment for balance and mobility problems in the participating units.

Results:

Two units were stand-alone rehabilitation units; two offered a service at the weekends. One had no access to community-based rehabilitation. All had dedicated treatment facilities but often did not use them because of lack of space and difficulty transporting patients. Twenty-two patients participated and 100 treatment sessions were observed. Practicing walking, sit-to-stand and transfers were the most frequent objectives and interventions usually with the therapist(s) physically facilitating the patient’s movements. The dose of practise was low; mean repetitions of sit-to-stand per session was 5 (SD 6.4); mean time spent upright per session was 11.24 (SD = 7) minutes, and mean number of steps per session was 202 (SD 118). The mean number of staff per patient was 2.1 (SD = 0.6, mode = 2), usually involving two qualified therapists. Falls prevention or management, wheelchair skills and bed mobility were not practised.

Conclusion:

Stroke physiotherapy for balance and mobility problems features low-dose, low-intensity therapist-led practice, mainly of walking and sit-to-stand. Staff:patient ratios were high. Therapists need to organize treatment sessions to maximize the intensity of functional task practice.

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