Predictors of upper limb spasticity after stroke? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Physiotherapy. 2019 Jun;105(2):163-173. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2019 Jan 11.


Objective: To determine the predictive markers for the occurrence of upper limb spasticity in the first 12 months after stroke.

Data sources: A systematic review was undertaken of the databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and PEDRO to 31st December 2017.

Study selection: Non-experimental or experimental studies that included a control group with spasticity who did not receive an experimental intervention which investigated at least one variable (explanatory variable) measured at baseline against the development (or not) of spasticity at a future time point within 12 months post stroke were selected independently by two reviewers. Eleven papers met the selection criteria.

Study appraisal: Data were extracted into tabular format using predefined data fields by two reviewers. Study quality was evaluated using the modified Downs and Black tool. Data were analysed using a meta-analysis or narrative review.

Results: Ten studies, including 856 participants were analysed. The predictive markers of upper limb spasticity at one month post stroke were: motor 11.25 (odds ratio, OR); [95% CI:2.48, 51.04] and sensory impairments 4.91 (OR); [1.24, 19.46]; haemorrhagic stroke 3.70 (OR); [1.05, 12.98] and age 0.01 (OR) [0.00, 69.89]. Only motor impairment was found as a significant predictor at six months post stroke 30.68 (OR); [1.60, 587.06].

Limitations: Low number of studies exploring biomechanical and neurophysiological in addition to behavioural predictors of spasticity were included.

Conclusion and implications of key findings: Using the results, the identified predictive markers have potential to better inform clinical decision-making and to plan specific rehabilitation interventions by physiotherapists for stroke survivors with upper limb spasticity. Systematic Review Registration Number PROSPERO (ID: CRD42016027642).

Keywords: Contracture; Muscle tone; Prediction; Rehabilitation; Stroke; Upper limb.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Muscle Spasticity / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Upper Extremity*