More than 80% of stroke survivors worldwide suffer from permanent upper limb motor deficits. Restoration of upper limb motor functions in conventional rehabilitation remains challenging; the main difficulties are as follows: 1) lack of intensive, repetitive practice in manually delivered treatment; 2) lack of coordination management of upper limb motor tasks, particularly those involving the distal joints, e.g., the wrist and the hand; and 3) lack of understanding of the optimal joint supportive scheme in task-oriented upper limb training. More effective training strategies are necessary for upper limb rehabilitation following stroke. Robots have proved to be valuable assistants in labour-demanding post-stroke rehabilitation, with a controllable mechanical design and repeatable dynamic support in physical training. A series of rehabilitation robots for multi-joint practices were successfully designed in our previous works. In this work, we proposed a device-assisted multi-joint coordinated strategy for post-stroke upper limb training. The objectives of the study were as follows: 1) To evaluate the rehabilitation effectiveness of multi-joint coordinated upper limb practice assisted by an electromyography (EMG)-driven neuromuscular electric stimulation (NMES)-robot for stroke survivors in both the subacute and chronic stages. 2) To compare different joint supportive schemes using NMES-robots and identify the optimized scheme for upper limb rehabilitation. The objectives were achieved through three independent clinical trials using common clinical assessments, namely, the Fugl-Meyer Assessment (FMA), Modified Ashworth Scales (MAS), Action Research Arm Test (ARAT), and Functional Independence Measurement (FIM), and cross-session EMG evaluations to trace the recovery progress of individual muscle activities (i.e. EMG activation level) and muscular coordination (i.e. Co-contraction Index, CI) between a pair of muscles.
The first clinical randomized controlled trial (RCT) was conducted to investigate the clinical effects and rehabilitation effectiveness of the new training strategy in the subacute stroke period. Subjects were randomly assigned to two groups and received either 20 sessions of NMES-robot-assisted training (NMES-robot group, n=14) or time-matched conventional treatments (control group, n=10). Significant improvements were achieved in FMA (full score and shoulder/elbow), ARAT, and FIM for both groups [P<0.001, effect sizes (EFs)>0.279], whereas significant improvements in FMA (wrist/hand) and MAS (wrist) after treatment were only observed in the NMES-robot group (P<0.05, EFs>0.145), with the outcomes maintained for 3 months. In the NMES-robot group, CIs of the muscle pairs of biceps brachii and flexor carpi radialis (BIC&FCR) and biceps brachii and triceps brachii (BIC&TRI) were significantly reduced and the EMG activation level of the FCR decreased significantly. The result indicated comparable proximal motor improvements in both groups and better distal motor outcomes and more effective release of muscle spasticity across the whole upper limb in the NMES-robot group. The second part of the work was a clinical trial with a single-group design. Recruited chronic stroke patients (n=17) received 20 sessions of NMES-robot-assisted multi-joint coordinated upper limb training. Significant improvements were observed in FMA (full score and shoulder/elbow), ARAT, and FIM (P<0.05, EFs>0.157) and maintained for 3 months. CIs of the FCR&TRI and BIC&TRI muscle pairs and EMG activation levels of the FCR and BIC significantly decreased. The results indicated that the new training strategy was effective for upper limb recovery in the chronic stroke, with the long sustainability of the motor outcomes. In the third trial, another clinical RCT was conducted to investigate the training effects of different joint supportive schemes. The recruited chronic subjects were randomly assigned to receive task-oriented multi-joint practices with NMES-robotic support either to the finger-palm (hand group, n=15) or to the wrist-elbow (sleeve group, n=15). Significant improvements in FMA (full score and shoulder/elbow) and ARAT (P<0.05, EFs>0.147) were observed in both groups, whereas significant improvements in FMA (wrist/hand) and MAS (finger, wrist, and elbow) (P<0.05, EFs>0.149) were only observed in the hand group. These results indicated that the distal supportive scheme was more effective in distal motor recovery and whole arm spasticity control than the proximal supportive one under the same training strategy. In conclusion, NME-robot-assisted multi-joint coordinated training was able to achieve significant motor outcomes and effective muscle spasticity control in the entire upper limb, especially at the distal segments, i.e., the wrist and the fingers, in both subacute and chronic stroke patients. Moreover, the distal supportive scheme proved more effective than the proximal supportive scheme in multi-joint coordinated upper limb training.
via Investigation of multi-joint coordinated upper limb rehabilitation assisted with electromyography (EMG)-driven neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES)-robot after stroke | PolyU Institutional Research Archive