Robotic therapy for chronic stroke: general recovery of impairment or improved task-specific skill?

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Sep;114(3):1885-94. doi: 10.1152/jn.00336.2015. Epub 2015 Jul 15.


There is a great need to develop new approaches for rehabilitation of the upper limb after stroke. Robotic therapy is a promising form of neurorehabilitation that can be delivered in higher doses than conventional therapy. Here we sought to determine whether the reported effects of robotic therapy, which have been based on clinical measures of impairment and function, are accompanied by improved motor control. Patients with chronic hemiparesis were trained for 3 wk, 3 days a week, with titrated assistive robotic therapy in two and three dimensions. Motor control improvements (i.e., skill) in both arms were assessed with a separate untrained visually guided reaching task. We devised a novel PCA-based analysis of arm trajectories that is sensitive to changes in the quality of entire movement trajectories without needing to prespecify particular kinematic features. Robotic therapy led to skill improvements in the contralesional arm. These changes were not accompanied by changes in clinical measures of impairment or function. There are two possible interpretations of these results. One is that robotic therapy only leads to small task-specific improvements in motor control via normal skill-learning mechanisms. The other is that kinematic assays are more sensitive than clinical measures to a small general improvement in motor control.

Keywords: kinematics; motor control; neurorehabilitation; robotic therapy; stroke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arm / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Brain Ischemia / rehabilitation
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Robotics*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation