High- Versus Low-Frequency Stimulation Effects on Fine Motor Control in Chronic Hemiplegia: A Pilot Study

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The optimal parameters of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) for recovery of hand function after stroke are not known. This clinical pilot study examined whether higher or lower frequencies are more effective for improving fine motor control of the hand in a chronic poststroke population.


A 1-month, 4 times per week, in-home regimen of either a high-frequency (40 Hz) or low-frequency (20 Hz) NMES program was applied to the hemiplegic thenar muscles of 16 persons with chronic stroke. Participants were identified a priori as having a low level of function (LF) or a high level of function (HF). Outcome measures of strength, dexterity, and endurance were measured before and after participation in the regimen.


LF subjects showed no significant changes with either the high- or the low-frequency NMES regimen. HF subjects showed significant changes in strength, dexterity, and endurance. Within this group, higher frequencies of stimulation yielded strength gains and increased motor activation; lower frequencies affected dexterity and endurance.


The results suggest that higher frequencies of stimulation could be more effective in improving strength and motor activation properties and that lower frequencies may affect coordination and endurance changes. Results also indicate that persons with a higher functional level of recovery may respond more favorably to NMES regimens, but further study with larger patient groups is warranted.

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