The functional value of electrical muscle stimulation for the rehabilitation of the hand in stroke patients

Scand J Rehabil Med. 1997 Mar;29(1):3-10.


The influence of suprathreshold electrical stimulation of the extensor and flexor carpi radialis muscles on biomechanical and functional movement parameters is compared with the effect of a standardized active repetitive training of hand and fingers. Twelve patients suffering from ischaemic lesions in the territory of the middle cerebral artery participated in the study, which was conducted using a multiple baseline design. Following a baseline phase that lasted between one and three weeks all patients received electrical muscle stimulation for 20 minutes twice daily. In a third phase the repetitive training of hand and fingers was conducted for 20 minutes twice daily. Both interventions were applied in addition to conventional occupational therapy and physiotherapy. With the exception of spasticity in hand and finger flexors, repetitive electrical muscle stimulation does not improve biomechanical or functional motor parameters of the centrally paretic hand and arm. The repetitive motor training, however, is appropriate to improve biomechanical and functional movement parameters significantly. Apart from a possible effect on the muscle cell itself, the electrical muscle stimulation is thought to represent a mainly sensory, i.e. proprioceptive, and cutaneous intervention, whereas the active motor training is characterized by a continuous sensorimotor coupling within motor centres of the brain. The underlying neurophysiological mechanisms as well as basic principles concerning the role of afferent input for motor learning and recovery are discussed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Female
  • Hand / physiopathology*
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Spasticity / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*