Intensive physical therapy assists severely impaired stroke patients in regaining arm function

Key to improved recovery for stroke patients is more time spent in an intensive physical therapy program, according to researchers at the University of Florida.

Janis Daly, PhD, professor in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Department of Neurology and director of the National Veterans Affairs Brain Rehabilitation Research Center of Excellence in Gainesville, Fla., and colleagues focused their study on stroke survivors who experienced persistent disability after a year or more or standard care completion.

“Often after stroke, people can recover normal function without intensive treatment,” Daly stated in a press release. “For this study, however, we enrolled people who had a stroke a year or more prior to their study participation and who were severely impaired. The magnitude of recovery we observed in our study is higher than any other studies that have been published so far, which supports the promise of longer treatment and more intensive treatment after stroke, even for those who are more severely impaired.”

Daly along with her colleagues administered an intensive program therapy to 39 patients, including 5 hours of rehabilitation per day, 5 days a week for 12 weeks to help them regain movements of the shoulder, arms and hands.  Researchers tested three modes of rehabilitation: learning rehabilitation, electrical stimulation rehabilitation and robotics-assisted rehabilitation.

One group received 5 hours of motor learning while the other two groups received 3.5 hours of motor learning and for the remaining 1.5 hours they received either electrical stimulation or robotics’ assisted rehabilitation. All groups significantly improved, doubling or nearly doubling scores on a scale which assessed coordination, with no statistically significant differences in recovery among groups.

“The recovery was meaningful to patients in terms of physical function, Daly said. “Each person’s recovery was somewhat unique. Some had dramatic recovery, some had less. Some were able to perform functional tasks that they weren’t able to do before; some recovered the ability to move their arm so they could actually place the arm for functional tasks, for example into the sleeve of a sweater.”

Disclosure: The researchers report the study was funded by Grants B2801R, b9024-S and B50805 from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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