Effect of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Severely Affected Arm-Hand Motor Function in Patients After an Acute Ischemic Stroke: A Pilot Randomized Control Trial

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Abstract

Objective

The aim of this article was to determine whether cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (c-tDCS) to unaffected primary motor cortex (PMC) plus conventional occupational therapy (OT) improves functional motor recovery of the affected arm hand in patients after an acute ischemic stroke compared with sham transcranial direct current stimulation plus conventional OT.

Design

In this prospective, randomized, double-blinded, sham-controlled trial of 16 severe, acute ischemic stroke patients with severe arm-hand weakness were randomly assigned to either experimental (c-tDCS plus OT; n = 8) or control (sham transcranial direct current stimulation plus OT; n = 8) groups. All patients received a standard 3-hr in-patient rehabilitation therapy, plus an additional ten 30-min sessions of tDCS. During each session, 1 mA of cathodal stimulation to the unaffected PMC is performed followed by the patient's scheduled OT. The primary outcome measure was change in Action Research Arm Test (ARAT) total and subscores on discharge.

Result

Application of c-tDCS to unaffected PMC resulted in a clinically relevant 10-point improvement in the affected arm-hand function based on ARAT total score compared with a 2-point improvement in the control group.

Conclusions

Application of 30-min of c-tDCS to the unaffected PMC showed a 10-point improvement in the ARAT score. This corresponds to a large effect size in improvement of affected arm-hand function in patients with severe, acute ischemic stroke. Although not statistically significant, this suggests that larger studies, enrolling at least 25 patients in each group, and with a longer follow-up are warranted.

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