Physical rehabilitation approaches for the recovery of function and mobility following stroke

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Apr 22;2014(4):CD001920. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001920.pub3.


Background: Various approaches to physical rehabilitation may be used after stroke, and considerable controversy and debate surround the effectiveness of relative approaches. Some physiotherapists base their treatments on a single approach; others use a mixture of components from several different approaches.

Objectives: To determine whether physical rehabilitation approaches are effective in recovery of function and mobility in people with stroke, and to assess if any one physical rehabilitation approach is more effective than any other approach.For the previous versions of this review, the objective was to explore the effect of 'physiotherapy treatment approaches' based on historical classifications of orthopaedic, neurophysiological or motor learning principles, or on a mixture of these treatment principles. For this update of the review, the objective was to explore the effects of approaches that incorporate individual treatment components, categorised as functional task training, musculoskeletal intervention (active), musculoskeletal intervention (passive), neurophysiological intervention, cardiopulmonary intervention, assistive device or modality.In addition, we sought to explore the impact of time after stroke, geographical location of the study, dose of the intervention, provider of the intervention and treatment components included within an intervention.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched December 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 12, 2012), MEDLINE (1966 to December 2012), EMBASE (1980 to December 2012), AMED (1985 to December 2012) and CINAHL (1982 to December 2012). We searched reference lists and contacted experts and researchers who have an interest in stroke rehabilitation.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of physical rehabilitation approaches aimed at promoting the recovery of function or mobility in adult participants with a clinical diagnosis of stroke. Outcomes included measures of independence in activities of daily living (ADL), motor function, balance, gait velocity and length of stay. We included trials comparing physical rehabilitation approaches versus no treatment, usual care or attention control and those comparing different physical rehabilitation approaches.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently categorised identified trials according to the selection criteria, documented their methodological quality and extracted the data.

Main results: We included a total of 96 studies (10,401 participants) in this review. More than half of the studies (50/96) were carried out in China. Generally the studies were heterogeneous, and many were poorly reported.Physical rehabilitation was found to have a beneficial effect, as compared with no treatment, on functional recovery after stroke (27 studies, 3423 participants; standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.78, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.58 to 0.97, for Independence in ADL scales), and this effect was noted to persist beyond the length of the intervention period (nine studies, 540 participants; SMD 0.58, 95% CI 0.11 to 1.04). Subgroup analysis revealed a significant difference based on dose of intervention (P value < 0.0001, for independence in ADL), indicating that a dose of 30 to 60 minutes per day delivered five to seven days per week is effective. This evidence principally arises from studies carried out in China. Subgroup analyses also suggest significant benefit associated with a shorter time since stroke (P value 0.003, for independence in ADL).We found physical rehabilitation to be more effective than usual care or attention control in improving motor function (12 studies, 887 participants; SMD 0.37, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.55), balance (five studies, 246 participants; SMD 0.31, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.56) and gait velocity (14 studies, 1126 participants; SMD 0.46, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.60). Subgroup analysis demonstrated a significant difference based on dose of intervention (P value 0.02 for motor function), indicating that a dose of 30 to 60 minutes delivered five to seven days a week provides significant benefit. Subgroup analyses also suggest significant benefit associated with a shorter time since stroke (P value 0.05, for independence in ADL).No one physical rehabilitation approach was more (or less) effective than any other approach in improving independence in ADL (eight studies, 491 participants; test for subgroup differences: P value 0.71) or motor function (nine studies, 546 participants; test for subgroup differences: P value 0.41). These findings are supported by subgroup analyses carried out for comparisons of intervention versus no treatment or usual care, which identified no significant effects of different treatment components or categories of interventions.

Authors' conclusions: Physical rehabilitation, comprising a selection of components from different approaches, is effective for recovery of function and mobility after stroke. Evidence related to dose of physical therapy is limited by substantial heterogeneity and does not support robust conclusions. No one approach to physical rehabilitation is any more (or less) effective in promoting recovery of function and mobility after stroke. Therefore, evidence indicates that physical rehabilitation should not be limited to compartmentalised, named approaches, but rather should comprise clearly defined, well-described, evidenced-based physical treatments, regardless of historical or philosophical origin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / methods*
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology
  • Motor Skills
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Posture*
  • Proprioception / physiology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recovery of Function
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*