Background: Low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the contralesional motor cortex (M1) has demonstrated beneficial effects on motor recovery, but evidence among patients with subacute stroke is lacking. We aimed to investigate whether 1-Hz rTMS over the contralesional M1 versus sham rTMS could improve arm function in patients with subacute ischemic stroke when combined with rehabilitative motor training.
Methods: In total, 77 patients who were within 90 days after their first-ever ischemic stroke were enrolled and randomly allocated to either real (n = 40) or sham rTMS (n = 37). We delivered 1-Hz 30-minute active or sham rTMS before each daily 30-minute occupational therapy sessions over a 2-week period. The primary endpoint was changes in the Box and Block Test (BBT) score immediately after the end of treatment (EOT). Secondary analyses assessed changes in Fugl-Meyer assessment, Finger Tapping Test (FTT), Brunnstrom stage, and grip strength.
Clinical trial registration: ClinialTrials.gov (NCT02082015).
Results: Changes in BBT immediately after the end of treatment did not differ significantly between the 2 groups (P = .267). Subgroup analysis according to cortical involvement revealed that real rTMS resulted in improvements in BBT at 1 month after EOT (17.4 ± 9.8 real vs 10.9 ± 10.3 sham; P = .023) and Brunnstrom stage of the hand immediately after EOT (0.6 ± 0.5 real vs 0.2 ± 0.5 sham; P = .023), only in the group without cortical involvement.
Conclusion: The effects of real and sham rTMS did not differ significantly among patients within 3 months poststroke. The location of stroke lesions should be considered for future clinical trials.
Keywords: motor cortex; neuronal plasticity; recovery of function; rehabilitation; stroke; transcranial magnetic stimulation.