Objective: To examine the effects of electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback training on the recovery of gait in the acute phase post stroke.
Design: Patients were randomly assigned to EMG biofeedback or control groups. They received treatment three times a week for six weeks. All patients were assessed prior to treatment, after 18 treatment sessions, and at three months follow-up.
Setting: The study was carried out at Scunthorpe General Hospital in North Lincolnshire. The subjects were acute stroke patients who had been admitted on to the medical and elderly wards.
Interventions: The EMG biofeedback group were treated using EMG as an adjunct to physiotherapy. The patients were encouraged to facilitate or inhibit abnormal muscle tone via auditory or visual signals transmitted from electrodes placed over the appropriate muscles. The control group were treated using the same techniques, electrodes were used with this group of patients, but the EMG machine was turned off and faced away from the patient and the therapist to control the placebo effect.
Outcome measures: A large battery of outcome measures was used for physical and psychological assessment. The physical measures consisted of active movement, muscle tone, sensation, proprioception, mobility and activities of daily living (ADL). The psychological measures included orientation, memory, spatial performance, language and IQ.
Results: Twenty-one patients were included in the study. Scores were combined into four groups: mild EMG, severe EMG, mild control and severe control. Results showed that there was an improvement in physical scores for active movement, mobility and ADL over time, but there was no significant difference between the EMG and control groups. Scores on the psychological tests were within normal limits, and there was no difference in performance between the EMG and control groups.
Conclusions: This study showed no significant differences in the rate of improvement after stroke between the two groups. Although EMG biofeedback was used as an adjunct to physiotherapy and represented clinical practice, the results provide little evidence to support the clinical significance of using EMG biofeedback to improve gait in the acute phase after stroke.