Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, which can modulate cortical excitability and combined with rehabilitation therapies may improve motor recovery after stroke.
Our aim was to study the feasibility of a 4-week robotic gait training protocol combined with tDCS, and to study tDCS to the leg versus hand motor cortex or sham to improve walking ability in patients after a subacute stroke.
Forty-nine subacute stroke patients underwent 20 daily sessions (5 days a week for 4 weeks) of robotic gait training combined with tDCS. Patients were assigned either to the tDCSleg group (n = 9), receiving 2 mA anodal tDCS over the motor cortex leg representation (vertex), or an active control group (n = 17) receiving anodal tDCS over the hand motor cortex area (tDCShand). In addition, we studied 23 matched patients in a control group receiving gait training without tDCS (notDCS). Study outcomes included gait speed (10-meter walking test), and quality of gait, using the Functional Ambulatory Category (FAC) before and after the 4-week training period.
Only one patient did not complete the treatment because he presented a minor side-effect. Patients in all three groups showed a significantly improvement in gait speed and FAC. The tDCSleg group did not perform better than the tDCShand or notDCS group.
Combined tDCS and robotic training is a safe and feasible procedure in subacute stroke patients. However, adding tDCS to robot-assisted gait training shows no benefit over robotic gait training alone.