Impaired hand function after stroke is a major cause of long-term disability. We developed a novel paradigm that quantifies two critical aspects of hand function, strength, and independent control of fingers (individuation), and also removes any obligatory dependence between them. Hand recovery was tracked in 54 patients with hemiparesis over the first year after stroke. Most recovery of strength and individuation occurred within the first 3 mo. A novel time-invariant recovery function was identified: recovery of strength and individuation were tightly correlated up to a strength level of ~60% of estimated premorbid strength; beyond this threshold, strength improvement was not accompanied by further improvement in individuation. Any additional improvement in individuation was attributable instead to a second process that superimposed on the recovery function. We conclude that two separate systems are responsible for poststroke hand recovery: one contributes almost all of strength and some individuation; the other contributes additional individuation.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We tracked recovery of the hand over a 1-yr period after stroke in a large cohort of patients, using a novel paradigm that enabled independent measurement of finger strength and control. Most recovery of strength and control occurs in the first 3 mo after stroke. We found that two separable systems are responsible for motor recovery of hand: one contributes strength and some dexterity, whereas a second contributes additional dexterity.
Keywords: finger individuation; motor recovery; plasticity; strength; stroke.
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