Comparison of robotics, functional electrical stimulation, and motor learning methods for treatment of persistent upper extremity dysfunction after stroke: a randomized controlled trial

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2015 Jun;96(6):981-90. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.10.022. Epub 2014 Nov 15.


Objective: To compare response to upper-limb treatment using robotics plus motor learning (ML) versus functional electrical stimulation (FES) plus ML versus ML alone, according to a measure of complex functional everyday tasks for chronic, severely impaired stroke survivors.

Design: Single-blind, randomized trial.

Setting: Medical center.

Participants: Enrolled subjects (N=39) were >1 year postsingle stroke (attrition rate=10%; 35 completed the study).

Interventions: All groups received treatment 5d/wk for 5h/d (60 sessions), with unique treatment as follows: ML alone (n=11) (5h/d partial- and whole-task practice of complex functional tasks), robotics plus ML (n=12) (3.5h/d of ML and 1.5h/d of shoulder/elbow robotics), and FES plus ML (n=12) (3.5h/d of ML and 1.5h/d of FES wrist/hand coordination training).

Main outcome measures: Primary measure: Arm Motor Ability Test (AMAT), with 13 complex functional tasks; secondary measure: upper-limb Fugl-Meyer coordination scale (FM).

Results: There was no significant difference found in treatment response across groups (AMAT: P≥.584; FM coordination: P≥.590). All 3 treatment groups demonstrated clinically and statistically significant improvement in response to treatment (AMAT and FM coordination: P≤.009). A group treatment paradigm of 1:3 (therapist/patient) ratio proved feasible for provision of the intensive treatment. No adverse effects.

Conclusions: Severely impaired stroke survivors with persistent (>1y) upper-extremity dysfunction can make clinically and statistically significant gains in coordination and functional task performance in response to robotics plus ML, FES plus ML, and ML alone in an intensive and long-duration intervention; no group differences were found. Additional studies are warranted to determine the effectiveness of these methods in the clinical setting.

Keywords: Electric stimulation; FES; Randomized controlled trial, Rehabilitation; Robotics; Stroke; Upper extremity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Female
  • Hemiplegia / physiopathology
  • Hemiplegia / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Robotics*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*
  • Upper Extremity / physiopathology*