A conventional treatment outcome is suboptimal for sensory impairments in stroke patients. Novel approaches based on electrical stimulation or robotics are proposed as an adjuvant for rehabilitation, though their efficacy for motor, sensory, and body representation recovery have not been tested.
Sixty chronic stroke patients with unilateral motor deficits were included in a pseudo-randomized open-label multi-arm control trial (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT03349138). We tested the effects of a robotic glove (GloReha [GR]) and a new neuromuscular electrical stimulation system (Helping Hand [HH]) and compared them with conventional treatment (CT) in restoring motor and sensory functions and the affected limb perception. HH was designed to concurrently deliver peripheral motor activation and enhanced cutaneous sensation. Patients were split in four dose-matched groups: CT, GR, HH, and GRHH (receiving 50% GR and 50% HH). Assessments were performed at inclusion, halfway, end of treatment (week 9), and follow-up (week 13).
HH provided an earlier benefit, quantified by the Motricity Index (MI), than GR. At the end of the treatment, the amelioration was higher in groups GRHH and HH and extended to somatosensory functions. These benefits persisted at the follow-up. GRHH and HH also improved the perceived dimensions and altered feeling toward the affected limb. Interestingly, the reduction of altered feelings correlated with MI improvements and depended on the amount of HH.
We suggest that HH concurrently stimulates sensory and motor systems by generating an enhanced cutaneous sensation, coherent in location with the elicited motor recruitment, leading to ameliorated sensorimotor functions and bodily perceptions in stroke patients.