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Front. Neurol. | doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00071

Progressive Abduction Loading Therapy with Horizontal-Plane Viscous Resistance Targeting Weakness and Flexion Synergy to Treat Upper Limb Function in Chronic Hemiparetic Stroke: A Randomized Clinical Trial

 Michael D. Ellis1*,  Carolina Carmona1,  Justin Drogos1 and Julius P. Dewald1, 2, 3
  • 1Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, Northwestern University, United States
  • 2Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, United States
  • 3Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Northwestern University, United States

Background. Progressive abduction loading therapy has emerged as a promising exercise therapy in stroke rehabilitation to systematically target the loss of independent joint control (flexion synergy) in individuals with chronic moderate/severe upper extremity impairment. Pre-clinical investigations have identified abduction loading during reaching exercise as a key therapeutic factor to improve reaching function. An augmentative approach may be to additionally target weakness by incorporating resistance training to increase constitutive joint torques of reaching with the goal of improving reaching function by “overpowering” flexion synergy. The objective was therefore to determine the therapeutic effects of horizontal-plane viscous resistance in combination with progressive abduction loading therapy. Methods. 32 individuals with chronic hemiparetic stroke were randomly allocated to two groups. The two groups had equivalent baseline characteristics on all demographic and outcome metrics including age (59±11 years), time post-stroke (10.1±7.6 years), and motor impairment (Fugl-Meyer, 26.7±6.5 out of 66). Both groups received therapy 3 times/week for 8 weeks while the experimental group included additional horizontal-plane viscous resistance. Quantitative standardized progression of the intervention was achieved using a robotic device. The primary outcomes of reaching distance and velocity under maximum abduction loading and secondary outcomes of isometric strength and a clinical battery were measured at pre-, post-, and 3 months following therapy. Results. There was no difference between groups on any outcome measure. However, for combined-groups, there was a significant increase in reaching distance (13.2%, effect size; d=0.56) and velocity (13.6%, effect size; d=0.27) at post-testing that persisted for 3 months and also a significant increase in abduction, elbow extension, and external rotation strength at post-testing that did not persist 3 months. Similarly, the clinical battery demonstrated a significant improvement in participant-reported measures of “physical problems” and “overall recovery” across all participants. Conclusions. The strengthening approach of incorporating horizontal-plane viscous resistance did not enhance the reaching function improvements observed in both groups. Data does not support the postulation that one can be trained to “overpower” the flexion synergy with resistance training targeting constitutive joint torques of reaching. Instead, flexion synergy must be targeted with progressive abduction loading to improve reaching function. Trial Registration., NCT01548781.

Keywords: Stroke, stroke rehabilitation, Upper Extremity, Robotics, Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, Physical Therapy Modalities, Exercise Therapy, Resistance Training

Received: 11 Dec 2017; Accepted: 31 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Ping Zhou, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, United States

Reviewed by:

Michele L. Callisaya, University of Tasmania, Australia
Margit Alt Murphy, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden  

Copyright: © 2018 Ellis, Carmona, Drogos and Dewald. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Michael D. Ellis, Northwestern University, Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, 645 N Michigan Ave Suite 1100, Chicago, 60611, Illinois, United States,