Objective: To determine the efficacy of positioning the affected shoulder in flexion and external rotation to prevent contracture shortly after stroke.
Design: Prospective, parallel-group, randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Four metropolitan mixed rehabilitation units.
Participants: A volunteer sample of 36 subjects (minus 5 dropouts), whose mean age was 68 years and had had their first stroke within the past 20 days.
Interventions: The experimental group received two 30-minute sessions a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks, during which the affected upper limb was placed in maximum comfortable external rotation and 90 degrees of flexion. Both the experimental and control groups received up to 10 minutes of shoulder exercises and standard upper-limb care.
Main outcome measures: Contracture was measured as the maximum passive shoulder external rotation and flexion of the affected side as compared with the intact side. Measures were taken at 2 and 6 weeks after stroke by an assessor blinded to group allocation.
Results: The 30-minute program of positioning the shoulder in maximum external rotation significantly reduced the development of contractures in the experimental group, compared with the control group ( P =.03). The 30-minute program of positioning the shoulder in 90 degrees of flexion did not prevent contractures in the experimental group as compared with the control group ( P =.88).
Conclusions: At least 30 minutes a day of positioning the affected shoulder in external rotation should be started as soon as possible for stroke patients who have little activity in the upper arm.