Background: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a simple and non-invasive method of augmenting motor recovery after stroke, probably mediated by restoring inter-hemispheric activation balance. This placebo-controlled pilot study examined the possible benefit of stimulating the lesioned hemisphere (5-Hz rTMS) or inhibiting the contra-lesional hemisphere (1-Hz rTMS) on clinical recovery of motor function in patients with ischaemic stroke and assessed the sustainability of the response.
Methods: Sixty patients with ischaemic stroke (>1 month from onset) with mild-to-moderate hemiparesis were randomized to receive 10 daily sessions of either sham rTMS, 5-Hz ipsi-lesional rTMS or 1-Hz contra-lesional rTMS, in addition to a standard physical therapy protocol. Serial assessments were made over a period of 12 weeks by the thumb-index finger tapping test (FT), Activity Index (AI) score and the modified Rankin Scale (mRS).
Results: In contrast to control patients, those receiving active rTMS as ipsi-lesional 5-Hz stimulation or 1-Hz contra-lesional stimulation showed statistically significant improvement on the FT test, AI scores and mRS score at 2 weeks, and the effect was sustained over the 12-week observation period. No significant adverse events were observed during treatment in either group.
Conclusions: Repetitive TMS has beneficial effects on motor recovery that can be translated to clinically meaningful improvement in disability in patients with post-stroke hemiparesis, with a well-sustained effect. The similarity of inhibitory and stimulatory rTMS in producing these effects supports the inter-hemispheric balance hypothesis and encourages further research into their use in long-term neurorehabilitation programmes of patients with stroke.