GAINESVILLE, Fla., June 26, 2000 -- Leslie McClellan, 68, could barely hold an empty soft drink can with his left hand years after a stroke rendered his left side almost completely useless. Forget about picking up a piece of paper or grasping a pencil -- or, worse yet, preparing meals.
Now he can anchor a piece of steak with a fork to cut it and once again clutch an apple.
The turnabout came after McClellan participated in a University of Florida study that used a slight electrical current to painlessly stimulate the muscles of his arm. He was one of several who regained some use of their affected fingers, hand and arm after undergoing the therapy, among the experimental rehabilitation techniques scientists say could revolutionize the way patients are treated in the months and years after a stroke, a leading cause of motor disability.
Every 53 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. About 600,000 Americans will suffer one this year, and 160,000 of them will die.
Known as electromyography-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation, the approach is thought to retrain the brain to control voluntary movements, which often are impeded by a stroke, said James Cauraugh, an associate professor of exercise and sport sciences in UF's College of Health and Human Performance.
"It's important to work on the wrist and fingers because often they are in a state of flexion; that's when the fingers, the wrist and the elbow are all curled up close to the body," Cauraugh said. "Patients have the tendency to only grab things, rather than to extend their fingers, which often want to stay in a fist. They aren't able to activate the control, to turn on the muscles to extend those fingers."
So Cauraugh and colleagues from UF's College of Health Professions -- including physical therapists Kathye Light and Andrea Behrman -- set out to determine whether a small electrical stimulus could activate arm musc
Contact: Melanie Fridl Ross
University of Florida