[Review] Rehabilitation of motor function after stroke: a multiple systematic review focused on techniques to stimulate upper extremity recovery – Full Text PDF


Stroke is one of the leading causes for disability worldwide. Motor function deficits due to stroke affect the patients’ mobility, their limitation in daily life activities, their participation in society and their odds of returning to professional activities. All of these factors contribute to a low overall quality of life. Rehabilitation training is the most effective way to reduce motor impairments in stroke patients.

This multiple systematic review focuses both on standard treatment methods and on innovating  rehabilitation techniques used to promote upper extremity motor function in stroke patients. A total number of 5712 publications on stroke rehabilitation was systematically reviewed for relevance and quality with regards to upper extremity motor outcome. This procedure yielded 270 publications corresponding to the inclusion criteria of the systematic review. Recent technology-based interventions in stroke rehabilitation including non-invasive brain stimulation, robot-assisted training and virtual reality immersion are addressed. Finally, a decisional tree based on evidence from the literature and characteristics of stroke patients is proposed.

At present, the stroke rehabilitation field faces the challenge to tailor evidence-based treatment strategies to the needs of the individual stroke patient. Interventions can be combined in order to achieve the maximal motor function recovery for each patient. Though the efficacy of some  interventions may be under debate, motor skill learning and some new technological approaches give promising outcome prognosis in stroke motor rehabilitation.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that stroke events in EU countries are likely to increase by 30% between 2000 and 2025 (Truelsen et al., 2006). The most common deficit after stroke is hemiparesis of the contralateral upper limb, with more than 80% of stroke patients experiencing this condition acutely and more than 40% chronically (Cramer et al., 1997).

Common manifestations of upper extremity motor impairment include muscle weakness or contracture, changes in muscle tone, joint laxity and impaired motor control. These impairments induce disabilities in common activities such as reaching, picking up objects, and holding onto objects (for a review on precision grip deficits, see Bleyenheuft and Gordon, 2014).

Motor paresis of the upper extremity may be associated with other neurological manifestations that affect the recovery of motor function and thus require focused therapeutic intervention. Deficits in somatic sensations (body senses such as touch, temperature, pain and proprioception)  after stroke are common with prevalence rates variously reported to be 11%-85% (Carey et al., 1993; Hunter, 2002; Yekutiel, 2000). Functionally, the motor problems resulting from sensory deficits after stroke can be summarized as (1) impaired detection of sensory information, (2) disturbed motor tasks performance requiring somatosensory information, and (3) diminished upper extremity rehabilitation outcomes (Hunter, 2002). Sensation is essential for safety even  if there is adequate motor recovery (Yekutiel, 2000). Also, up to 50% of patients experience  pain of the upper extremity during the first year after stroke, especially shoulder pain and complex regional pain syndrome-type I (CRPS-type I), which may impede adequate early rehabilitation (Jönsson et al., 2006; Kocabas et al., 2007; Lundström et al., 2009; Sackley et al.,2008). Furthermore, joint subluxation and muscle contractures can lead to nociceptive musculoskeletal pain (de Oliveira et al., 2012). Among other complications of stroke the neglect syndrome (Ringman et al., 2004) and spasticity (Sommerfeld et al., 2004; Welmer et al., 2010) affect motor and functional outcomes.

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