Electrical Stimulation of Wrist Extensors in Poststroke Hemiplegia

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Background and PurposeIt has been suggested that cyclic neuromuscular electrical stimulation (ES) may enhance motor recovery after stroke. We have investigated the effects of ES of the wrist extensors on impairment of wrist function and on upper-limb disability in patients being rehabilitated after acute stroke.MethodsWe recruited 60 hemiparetic patients (mean age, 68 years) 2 to 4 weeks after stroke into a randomized, controlled, parallel-group study comparing standard rehabilitation treatment with standard treatment plus ES of wrist extensors (3 times 30 minutes daily for 8 weeks). Isometric strength of wrist extensors was measured using a device built for that purpose. Upper-limb disability was assessed with use of the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT). Observations were continued for 32 weeks (24 weeks after the finish of ES or the control intervention phase).ResultsThe change in isometric strength of wrist extensors (at an angle of 0[degree sign] extension) was significantly greater in the ES group than the control group at both 8 and 32 weeks (P=0.004, P=0.014 by Mann Whitney U test). At week 8 the grasp and grip subscores of the ARAT increased significantly in the ES group compared with that in the control group (P=0.013 and P=0.02, respectively); a similar trend was seen for the total ARAT score (P=0.11). In the subgroup of 33 patients with some residual wrist extensor strength at study entry (moment at 0[degree sign] extension >0), the ARAT total score had increased at week 8 by a mean of 21.1 (SD, 12.7) in the ES group compared with 10.3 (SD, 9.0) in the control group (P=0.024, Mann Whitney U test); however, at 32 weeks the differences between these 2 subgroups were no longer statistically significant.ConclusionsES of the wrist extensors enhances the recovery of isometric wrist extensor strength in hemiparetic stroke patients. Upper-limb disability was reduced after 8 weeks of ES therapy, with benefits most apparent in those with some residual motor function at the wrist. However, it is not clear how long the improvements in upper-limb disability are maintained after ES is discontinued. (Stroke. 1999;30:1384-1389.)

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