Treatment options for stroke survivors with severe hand impairment are limited. Active task practice can be restricted by difficulty in voluntarily activating finger muscles and interference from involuntary muscle excitation.
We developed a portable, actuated glove-orthosis, which could be employed to address both issues. We hypothesized that combining passive cyclical stretching (reducing motoneuronal hyperexcitability) imposed by the device with active-assisted, task-oriented training (rehabilitating muscle activation) would improve upper extremity motor control and task performance post-stroke.
Thirteen participants who experienced a stroke 2-6 months prior to enrollment completed 15 treatment sessions over five weeks. Each session involved cyclically stretching the long finger flexors (30 min) followed by active-assisted task-oriented movement practice (60 min). Outcome measures were completed at six intervals: three before and three after treatment initiation.
Overall improvement in post-training scores was observed across all outcome measures, including the Graded Wolf Motor Function Test, Action Research Arm Test, and grip and pinch strength ( p ≤ 0.02), except finger extension force. No significant change in spasticity was observed. Improvement in upper extremity capabilities is achievable for stroke survivors even with severe hand impairment through a novel intervention combining passive cyclical stretching and active-assisted task practice, a paradigm which could be readily incorporated into the clinic.