Objective: To test a study design and explore the feasibility and potential effects of conventional neurological therapy, constraint induced therapy and therapeutic climbing to improve minimal to moderate arm and hand function in patients after a stroke.
Method: A pilot study with six-month follow-up in patients after stroke with minimal to moderate arm and hand function admitted for inpatient rehabilitation was performed. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three treatment approaches. Main outcomes were improvement of arm and hand function and adverse effects.
Results: 283 patients with stroke were screened for inclusion over a two-year period, out of which fourtyfour were included. All patients could be treated according to the protocol. Improvement of arm and hand function was significantly higher in conventional neurological therapy and constraint induced therapy compared with therapeutic climbing at discharge, and at six months follow-up (P < 0.05, effect size = 0.56-0.76). No significant differences in arm and hand function were observed between constraint induced therapy and conventional neurological therapy. Constraint induced therapy participants were significantly less at risk of developing shoulder pain at six months follow-up compared with the other participants (P < 0.05, effect size = 0.82 and 1.79, respectively).
Conclusions: The study design needs adaptation to accommodate the stringent inclusion criteria leading to prolonged study duration. Constraint induced therapy seems to be the optimal approach to improve arm and hand function and minimize the risk of shoulder pain for patients with minimal to moderate arm hand function after stroke in the intermediate term.