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New Electrical Stimulation Therapy Shows Promise Improving Hand Function In Stroke Patients


Stroke survivors showed improved hand dexterity more when using a new electrical stimulation therapy compared to an existing stimulation technique, said researchers from the MetroHealth System, Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center and the Case Western Reserve University.

Every year, some 800,000 individuals experience strokes in the U.S. The medical condition is characterized by reduced blood flow to the brain and usually results in paralysis or partial paralysis on one side of the body, making it difficult for survivors to open a hand. To address this, low-level electric currents are applied to the affected hand to stimulate paralyzed muscles, with intensity, repetitions and timing set by therapists.

For a study published in the journal Stroke, the researchers developed a new electrical stimulation therapy that involved stroke survivors wearing a glove with sensors on their unaffected hand to control stimulation applied to their weak hand. As the unaffected hand is opened, a corresponding level of stimulation is applied to the weak hand, opening it.

Positive results from earlier studies carried out by the researchers encouraged them to compare the electrical stimulation therapy they developed with what’s commonly used to rehabilitate stroke survivors. Specifically, they wanted to determine which one is more effective for patients who are over six months past their stroke.

For the study, the researchers worked with 80 stroke survivors, half of which were administered the new electrical stimulation therapy and the other half provided with the common therapy. Hand function in all the subjects were also assessed before and after the therapy with a standard dexterity test involving moving blocks across a barrier within 60 seconds.

Based on their findings, the researchers saw that those who were on the receiving end of the new electrical stimulation therapy had better dexterity test scores (4.6 blocks) compared to the group that was given the common therapy (1.8 blocks). Additionally, those with no finger movement in the new therapy group prior to the study showed arm movement improvements.

At the end of the study, 97 percent of subjects from the new therapy group said that they have better usage in their affected hand than before the experiment began.

Aside from registering better treatment results, the study was also able to demonstrate that self-administered home therapy can be effective for stroke survivors.


“The more therapy a patient can get the better potential outcome they will get,” said Jayme Knutson, Ph.D., the study’s senior author.

Knutson is joined by John Chae, M.D., Richard Wilson, M.D. and Douglas Gunzler, Ph.D. in the study.

For their next step, the researchers are looking at carrying out a multi-site study not only to confirm results from the study but also to measure improvements in quality of life experienced by stroke survivors using the new electrical stimulation method.

Photo: Emanuele Longo | Flickr

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