Background: The majority of stroke patients have to cope with impaired arm function. Gravity compensation of the arm instantaneously affects abnormal synergistic movement patterns. The goal of the present study is to examine whether gravity compensated training improves unsupported arm function.
Methods: Seven chronic stroke patients received 18 half-hour sessions of gravity compensated reach training, in a period of six weeks. During training a motivating computer game was played. Before and after training arm function was assessed with the Fugl-Meyer assessment and a standardized, unsupported circle drawing task. Synergistic movement patterns were identified based on concurrent changes in shoulder elevation and elbow flexion/extension angles.
Results: Median increase of Fugl-Meyer scores was 3 points after training. The training led to significantly increased work area of the hemiparetic arm, as indicated by the normalized circle area. Roundness of the drawn circles and the occurrence of synergistic movement patterns remained similar after the training.
Conclusions: A decreased strength of involuntary coupling might contribute to the increased arm function after training. More research is needed to study working mechanisms involved in post stroke rehabilitation training. The used training setup is simple and affordable and is therefore suitable to use in clinical settings.