Background: Motor impairment after stroke interferes with performance of everyday activities. Upper limb spasticity may further disrupt the movement patterns that enable optimal function; however, the specific features of these altered movement patterns, which differentiate individuals with and without spasticity, have not been fully identified. This study aimed to characterize the kinematic and proprioceptive deficits of individuals with upper limb spasticity after stroke using the Kinarm robotic exoskeleton.
Methods: Upper limb function was characterized using two tasks: Visually Guided Reaching, in which participants moved the limb from a central target to 1 of 4 or 1 of 8 outer targets when cued (measuring reaching function) and Arm Position Matching, in which participants moved the less-affected arm to mirror match the position of the affected arm (measuring proprioception), which was passively moved to 1 of 4 or 1 of 9 different positions. Comparisons were made between individuals with (n = 35) and without (n = 35) upper limb post-stroke spasticity.
Results: Statistically significant differences in affected limb performance between groups were observed in reaching-specific measures characterizing movement time and movement speed, as well as an overall metric for the Visually Guided Reaching task. While both groups demonstrated deficits in proprioception compared to normative values, no differences were observed between groups. Modified Ashworth Scale score was significantly correlated with these same measures.
Conclusions: The findings indicate that individuals with spasticity experience greater deficits in temporal features of movement while reaching, but not in proprioception in comparison to individuals with post-stroke motor impairment without spasticity. Temporal features of movement can be potential targets for rehabilitation in individuals with upper limb spasticity after stroke.
Keywords: Kinematics; Robotics; Spasticity; Stroke; Upper extremity.