Purpose: 'Plateau' is an expression frequently used in relation to decisions to discharge patients from physiotherapy following stroke. This paper critically considers the concept of recovery plateau in stroke, exploring (i) the evidence for plateau, (ii) potential contributing factors, and (iii) the consequences for patients, therapists and services.
Search strategy: The concept of recovery plateau in stroke was reviewed drawing on standard critical appraisal methodology for the search strategy and critique. Electronic searches using Web of Knowledge, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Department of Health Website and the Cochrane Library from the earliest dates of coverage until February 2005 identified quantitative and qualitative literature related to stroke, plateau, recovery, outcome, rehabilitation and physiotherapy.
Discussion: The concept of plateau is ambiguous. Recovery has been considered to plateau within the first 6 months, yet recent studies indicate later recovery is possible. We suggest that 'plateau' relates not only to the patient's physical potential, but is influenced by how recovery is measured, the intensity and type of therapy, patients' actions and motivations, therapist values, and service limitations.
Conclusion: 'Plateau' is conceptually more complex than previously considered. Current conceptualizations may limit potential recovery and hinder service development. Research into plateau which takes account of contextual issues of therapy provision is required.