technique that electrically stimulates the stroke-impaired arm and requires it to work in unison with the healthy arm regained motor skills better than those who stimulated the impaired arm alone, according to a report in the June issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Many people who have had a stroke or cerebrovascular accident (such as head trauma) are unable to adequately move the wrist and fingers on one side of their body. Experts say that if these patients are to spontaneously regain their movement, it will happen only during the first year after stroke.
According to the study's lead author, James H. Cauraugh, Ph.D., a significant percentage of stroke patients have long-term movement disability and often have trouble performing simple tasks. "Many can't hold a bottle of water and move it to their mouths. It's difficult for them to eat or write if their dominant hand is affected," says Cauraugh, an associate professor in the Center for Exercise Science at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Cauraugh and a colleague compared three research protocols to determine which would best help people with long-term movement disability recover some of their motor skills. Twenty-five patients, average age 64, who had strokes an average of 39 months prior, were randomly assigned to one of three therapy groups.
In one group, electrical stimulation known as electromyography (EMG)-triggered stimulation was coupled with bilateral movement, a therapy where the unaffected arm helps the affected arm by mimicking its movement. The second group had active neuromuscular stimulation and unilateral movement therapy on the affected arm only. The third group, "the controls," had physical therapy on the affected limb without the aid of electrical stimulation or bilateral movement.