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NeuroRehabilitation. 2013;33(1):57-65. doi: 10.3233/NRE-130928.

Improved motor performance in chronic spinal cord injury following upper-limb robotic training.

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Non-invasive Brain Stimulation and Human Motor Control Laboratory, Burke Medical Research Institute, White Plains, NY, USA.



Recovering upper-limb motor function has important implications for improving independence of patients with tetraplegia after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI).


To evaluate the feasibility, safety and effectiveness of robotic-assisted training of upper limb in a chronic SCI population.


A total of 10 chronic tetraplegic SCI patients (C4 to C6 level of injury, American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale, A to D) participated in a 6-week wrist-robot training protocol (1 hour/day 3 times/week). The following outcome measures were recorded at baseline and after the robotic training: a) motor performance, assessed by robot-measured kinematics, b) corticospinal excitability measured by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and c) changes in clinical scales: motor strength (Upper extremity motor score), pain level (Visual Analog Scale) and spasticity (Modified Ashworth scale).


No adverse effects were observed during or after the robotic training. Statistically significant improvements were found in motor performance kinematics: aim (pre 1.17 ± 0.11 raduans, post 1.03 ± 0.08 raduans, p = 0.03) and smoothness of movement (pre 0.26 ± 0.03, post 0.31 ± 0.02, p = 0.03). These changes were not accompanied by changes in upper-extremity muscle strength or corticospinal excitability. No changes in pain or spasticity were found.


Robotic-assisted training of the upper limb over six weeks is a feasible and safe intervention that can enhance movement kinematics without negatively affecting pain or spasticity in chronic SCI. In addition, robot-assisted devices are an excellent tool to quantify motor performance (kinematics) and can be used to sensitively measure changes after a given rehabilitative intervention.

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