What the Proportional Recovery Rule Is (and Is Not): Methodological and Statistical Considerations

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2019 Nov;33(11):876-887. doi: 10.1177/1545968319872996. Epub 2019 Sep 15.


In 2008, it was proposed that the magnitude of recovery from nonsevere upper limb motor impairment over the first 3 to 6 months after stroke, measured with the Fugl-Meyer Assessment (FMA), is approximately 0.7 times the initial impairment ("proportional recovery"). In contrast to patients with nonsevere hemiparesis, about 30% of patients with an initial severe paresis do not show such recovery ("nonrecoverers"). Hence it was suggested that the proportional recovery rule (PRR) was a manifestation of a spontaneous mechanism that is present in all patients with mild-to-moderate paresis but only in some with severe paresis. Since the introduction of the PRR, it has subsequently been applied to other motor and nonmotor impairments. This more general investigation of the PRR has led to inconsistencies in its formulation and application, making it difficult to draw conclusions across studies and precipitating some cogent criticism. Here, we conduct a detailed comparison of the different studies reporting proportional recovery and, where appropriate, critique statistical methodology. On balance, we conclude that existing data in aggregate are largely consistent with the PRR as a population-level model for upper limb motor recovery; recent reports of its demise are exaggerated, as these excessively focus on the less conclusive issue of individual subject-level predictions. Moving forward, we suggest that methodological caution and new analytical approaches will be needed to confirm (or refute) a systematic character to spontaneous recovery from motor and other poststroke impairments, which can be captured by a mathematical rule either at the population or at the subject level.

Keywords: methods; proportional recovery; recovery; rehabilitation; statistics; stroke.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Paresis / etiology
  • Paresis / rehabilitation*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*
  • Stroke* / complications