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Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2003 Dec;17(4):220-6.

Treatment interventions for the paretic upper limb of stroke survivors: a critical review.

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  • 1Hamilton Health Sciences, School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Services, Holbrook 1, Chedoke, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8M 3Z5.


Despite a threefold increase in treatment interventions studies during the past 10 years, "best practice" for the rehabilitation of the paretic upper limb is still unclear. This review aims to lessen uncertainty in the management of the poststroke upper limb. Two separate searches of the scientific literature from 1966-2001 yielded 333 articles. Three referees, using strict inclusion and exclusion criteria, selected 68 relevant references. Cohort studies, randomized control trials, and systematic reviews were critically appraised. Mean randomized control trial quality (n = 33) was 17.1/27 (SD = 5.2, 95% CI = 15.2-19.0, range = 6-26). Mean quality of cohort studies (n = 29) was 11.8/27 (SD = 3.8, 95% CI = 10.4-13.2, range = 4-19). Quantitative syntheses were done using the Z-statistic. This systematic review indicated that sensorimotor training; motor learning training that includes the use of imagery, electrical stimulation alone, or combined with biofeedback; and engaging the client in repetitive, novel tasks can be effective in reducing motor impairment after stroke. Furthermore, careful handling, electrical stimulation, movement with elevation, strapping, and the avoidance of overhead pulleys could effectively reduce or prevent pain in the paretic upper limb. Rehabilitation specialists can use this research synthesis to guide their selection of effective treatment techniques for persons with impairments after stroke.

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