Background: Exercise-based therapy is known to enhance motor recovery after stroke but the most appropriate amount, i.e. the dose, of therapy is unknown. To determine the strength of current evidence for provision of a higher dose of the same types of exercise-based therapy to enhance motor recovery after stroke.
Methods: An electronic search of: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINHAL, AMED, and CENTRAL was undertaken. Two independent reviewers selected studies using predetermined inclusion criteria: randomised or quasi randomised controlled trials with or without blinding of assessors; adults, 18+ years, with a clinical diagnosis of stroke; experimental and control group interventions identical except for dose; exercise-based interventions investigated; and outcome measures of motor impairment, movement control or functional activity. Two reviewers independently extracted outcome and follow-up data. Effect sizes and 95% confidence intervals were interpreted with reference to risk of bias in included studies.
Results: 9 papers reporting 7 studies were included. Only 3 of the 7 included studies had all design elements assessed as low risk of bias. Intensity of the control intervention ranged from a mean of 9 to 28 hours over a maximum of 20 weeks. Experimental groups received between 14 and 92 hours of therapy over a maximum of 20 weeks. The included studies were heterogeneous with respect to types of therapy, outcome measures and time-points for outcome and follow-up. Consequently, most effect sizes relate to one study only. Single study effect sizes suggest a trend for better recovery with increased dose at the end of therapy but this trend was less evident at follow-up Meta-analysis was possible at outcome for: hand-grip strength, -10.1 [-19.1,-1.2] (2 studies, 97 participants); Action Research Arm Test (ARAT), 0.1 [-5.7,6.0] (3 studies, 126 participants); and comfortable walking speed, 0.3 [0.1,0.5] (2 studies, 58 participants). At follow-up, between 12 and 26 weeks after start of therapy, meta-analysis findings were: Motricity Arm, 10.7 [1.7,19.8] (2 studies, 83 participants); ARAT, 2.2 [-6.0,10.4] (2 studies, 83 participants); Rivermead Mobility, 1.0 [-0.6, 2.5] (2 studies, 83 participants); and comfortable walking speed, 0.2 [0.0,0.4] (2 studies, 60 participants).
Conclusions: Current evidence provides some, but limited, support for the hypothesis that a higher dose of the same type of exercised-based therapy enhances motor recovery after stroke. Prospective dose-finding studies are required.