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[ARTICLE] Recovery of upper limb function is greatest early after stroke but does continue to improve during the chronic phase: a two-year, observational study – Full Text

Abstract

Objectives

Investigate upper limb (UL) capacity and performance from <14-days to 24-months post-stroke.

Design

Longitudinal study of participants with acute stroke, assessed ≤14-days, 6-weeks, 3-, 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-months post-stroke.

Setting

Two acute stroke units.

Main outcome measures: Examination of UL capacity using Chedoke McMaster Stroke Assessment (combined arm and hand scores, 0 to 14), performance using Motor Activity Log (amount of movement and quality of movement, scored 0 to 5), and grip strength (kg) using Jamar dynamometer. Random effects regression models were performed to explore the change in outcomes at each time point. Routine clinical imaging was used to describe stroke location as cortical, subcortical or mixed.

Results

Thirty-four participants were enrolled: median age 67.7 years (IQR 60.7 to 76.2), NIHSS 11.5 (IQR 8.5 to 16), female n = 10 (36%). The monthly rate of change for all measures was consistently greatest in the 6-weeks post-baseline. On average, significant improvements were observed to 12- months in amount of use (median improvement 1.81, 95% CI 1.35 to 2.27) and strength (median improvement 8.29, 95% CI 5.90 to 10.67); while motor capacity (median improvement 4.70, 95% CI 3.8 to 5.6) and quality of movement (median improvement 1.83, 95% CI 1.37 to 2.3) improved to 18-months post-stroke. Some individuals were still demonstrating gains at 24-months post-stroke within each stroke location group.

Conclusion

This study highlights that the greatest rate of improvement of UL capacity and performance occurs early post-stroke. At the group level, improvements were evident at 12- to 18-months post-stroke, but at the individual level improvements were observed at 24-months.

Introduction

Up to 70% of individuals experience difficulties using their upper limb (UL, arm and hand) to perform meaningful activities after stroke [1]. There is an assumption that when a stroke survivor demonstrates a change in activity, it is underpinned by an improvement in their capacity (i.e., what a person can do in the clinical environment) and performance (i.e., does a person actually use their UL in real world environments outside of the clinic) [2]. However, UL recovery post-stroke is unlikely to be this simplistic [3]. Understanding how capacity and performance change over years post-stroke might help to identify which patients to target and when during their recovery.

Previous research has noted distinct recovery profiles during inpatient [4][5] and outpatient [6] rehabilitation. Firstly, survivors may demonstrate improvements in both capacity and performance after stroke. Secondly, survivors may demonstrate an improvement in capacity but not performance. Lastly, survivors may demonstrate little or no change in both capacity and performance. An improvement in performance but not capacity has not been documented in the literature. Combined, these profiles support our rationale that UL capacity and performance are interrelated, yet are different constructs that must be measured separately.

Stroke recovery is a long-term goal. It is important to complete observational studies that track recovery to establish whether there is a discrepancy between capacity and performance in the long-term. To date, longitudinal tracking of recovery has largely lacked investigation of natural recovery from an acute time point post-stroke (first 7- to 14-days), long-term follow up of patients beyond 3- to 6-months post-stroke, and characterisation of stroke variables such as lesion type and location that may modify or interact with observed recovery profiles [7].

In this exploratory study our objectives were to determine 1) whether UL capacity and performance improve over the first 24-months after stroke; and 2) if there is a window of greatest improvement in UL capacity and performance. This information is important to develop an understanding of the longterm timecourse of recovery after stroke to support evidence-based clinical practice guidelines to inform upper limb rehabilitation services.

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Continue —-> Recovery of upper limb function is greatest early after stroke but does continue to improve during the chronic phase: a two-year, observational study – ScienceDirect

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Upper limb motor capacity (Chedoke), performance (quality of movement & amount of use), and grip strength over 24-months post-stroke (n = 28)

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