Progressive shoulder abduction loading is a crucial element of arm rehabilitation in chronic stroke

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2009 Oct;23(8):862-9. doi: 10.1177/1545968309332927. Epub 2009 May 19.


Background: Total reaching range of motion (work area) diminishes as a function of shoulder abduction loading in the paretic arm in individuals with chronic hemiparetic stroke. This occurs when reaching outward against gravity or during transport of an object.

Objectives: This study implements 2 closely related impairment-based interventions to identify the effect of a subcomponent of reaching exercise thought to be a crucial element in arm rehabilitation.

Methods: A total of 14 individuals with chronic moderate to severe hemiparesis participated in the participant-blinded, randomized controlled study. The experimental group progressively trained for 8 weeks to actively support the weight of the arm, up to and beyond, while reaching to various outward targets. The control group practiced the same reaching tasks with matched frequency and duration with the weight of the arm supported. Work area and isometric strength were measured before and after the intervention.

Results: Change scores for work area at 9 loads were calculated for each group. Change scores were significantly larger for the experimental group indicating a larger increase in work area, especially shoulder abduction loads equivalent to those experienced during object transport. Changes in strength were not found within or between groups.

Conclusions: Progressive shoulder abduction loading can be utilized to ameliorate reaching range of motion against gravity. Future work should investigate the dosage response of this intervention, as well as test whether shoulder abduction loading can augment other therapeutic techniques such as goal-directed functional task practice and behavioral shaping to enhance real-world arm function.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paresis / physiopathology
  • Paresis / rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / instrumentation
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Robotics
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology*