Early Intensive Leg Training to Enhance Walking in Children With Perinatal Stroke: Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial

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Background.Development of motor pathways is modulated by activity in these pathways, when they are maturing (ie, critical period). Perinatal stroke injures motor pathways, including the corticospinal tracts, reducing their activity and impairing motor function. Current intervention for the lower limb emphasizes passive approaches (stretching, braces, botulinum toxin injections). The study hypothesis was that intensive, early, child-initiated activity during the critical period will enhance connectivity of motor pathways to the legs and improve motor function.Objective.The study objective was to determine whether early intervention with intensive activity is better than standard care, intervention delivered during the proposed critical period is better than after, and the outcomes are different when the intervention is delivered by a physical therapist in an institution vs. a parent at home.Design.A prospective, delay-group, single-blind, randomized controlled trial (RCT) and a parallel, cohort study of children living beyond commuting distance and receiving an intervention delivered by their parent.Setting.The RCT intervention was provided in university laboratories, and parent training was provided in the childs home.Participants.Children 8 months to 3 years old with MRI-confirmed perinatal ischemic stroke and early signs of hemiparesis.Intervention.Intensive, play-based leg activity with weights for the affected leg and foot, 1 hour/day, 4 days/week for 12 weeks.Measurements.The primary outcome was the Gross Motor Function Measure-66 score. Secondary outcomes were motion analysis of walking, full-day step counts, motor evoked potentials from transcranial magnetic stimulation, and patellar tendon reflexes.Limitations.Inter-individual heterogeneity in the severity of the stroke and behavioral differences are substantial but measurable. Differences in intervention delivery and assessment scoring are minimized by standardization and training.Conclusions.The intervention, contrary to current practice, could change physical therapy interventions for children with perinatal stroke.

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