Objective: To investigate whether transcutaneous electrical stimulation, when applied to acupuncture points in patients after acute stroke, decreases spasticity and/or increases muscle strength more effectively than placebo stimulation and standard rehabilitation.
Design: Randomized control trial.
Subjects: Sixty-two patients aged 70.0 (standard deviation 7.4) years and 9.2 (standard deviation 3.4) days post-stroke.
Methods: The patients were randomly assigned to 3 groups receiving transcutaneous electrical stimulation, placebo stimulation, or standard rehabilitation alone. Stimulation was applied to 4 acupuncture points in the affected lower leg for 60 min, 5 days a week for 3 weeks. Plantarflexor spasticity, ankle muscle strength, and functional mobility were measured before treatment, weekly during treatment, and at follow-up at week 8 post-stroke.
Results: No significant difference was found in the outcome measures among groups before treatment. When compared with standard rehabilitation or placebo stimulation, transcutaneous electrical stimulation to acupuncture points significantly increased the percentage of patients with normal tone, increased ankle dorsiflexor strength, and decreased antagonist co-contraction ratio (p < 0.05). The patients in the transcutaneous electrical stimulation group also tended to walk 2-4 days earlier than the patients in the other 2 groups.
Conclusions: Three weeks of transcutaneous electrical stimulation to lower leg acupuncture points, given 5 times a week within 10 days post-stroke, significantly decreased ankle plantarflexor spasticity, and increased dorsiflexor strength concomitant with a decrease in antagonist co-contraction.