Background and purpose: Electromagnetic brain stimulation might have value to reduce motor deficits after stroke. Safety and behavioral effects of higher frequencies of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) require detailed assessment.
Methods: Using an active treatment-only, unblinded, 2-center study design, patients with chronic stroke received 20 minutes of 20 Hz rTMS to the ipsilesional primary motor cortex hand area. Patients were assessed before, during the hour after, and 1 week after rTMS.
Results: The 12 patients were 4.7+/-4.9 years poststroke (mean+/-SD) with moderate-severe arm motor deficits. In terms of safety, rTMS was well tolerated and did not cause new symptoms; systolic blood pressure increased from pre- to immediately post-rTMS by 7 mm Hg (P=0.043); and none of the behavioral measures showed a decrement. In terms of behavioral effects, modest improvements were seen, for example, in grip strength, range of motion, and pegboard performance, up to 1 week after rTMS. The strongest predictor of these motor gains was lower patient age.
Conclusions: A single session of high-frequency rTMS to the motor cortex was safe. These results require verification with addition of a placebo group and thus blinded assessments across a wide spectrum of poststroke deficits and with larger doses of 20 Hz rTMS.