Electrical somatosensory stimulation followed by motor training of the paretic upper limb in acute stroke: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

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Background: Upper limb paresis is one of the most frequent and persistent impairments following stroke. Only 12–34% of stroke patients achieve full recovery of upper limb functioning, which seems to be required to habitually use the affected arm in daily tasks. Although the recovery of upper limb functioning is most pronounced during the first 4 weeks post stroke, there are few studies investigating the effect of rehabilitation during this critical time window. The purpose of this trial is to determine the effect of electrical somatosensory stimulation (ESS) initiated in the acute stroke phase on the recovery of upper limb functioning in a nonselected sample of stroke patients.

Methods/design: A sample of 102 patients with upper limb paresis of varying degrees of severity is assigned to either the intervention or the control group using stratified random sampling. The intervention group receives ESS plus usual rehabilitation and the control group receives sham ESS plus usual rehabilitation. The intervention is applied as 1 h of ESS/sham ESS daily, followed by motor training of the affected upper limb. The ESS/sham ESS treatment is initiated within 7 days from stroke onset and it is delivered during hospitalization, but no longer than 4 weeks post stroke. The primary outcome is hand dexterity assessed by the Box and Block Test; secondary outcomes are the Fugl-Meyer Assessment, hand grip strength, pinch strength, perceptual threshold of touch, degree of pain, and modified Rankin Scale score. Outcome measurements are conducted at baseline, post intervention and at 6-month follow-up.

Discussion: Because of the wide inclusion criteria, we believe that the results can be generalized to the larger population of patients with a first-ever stroke who present with an upper limb paresis of varying severity. On the other hand, the sample size (n = 102) may preclude subgroup analyses in such a heterogeneous sample. The sham ESS treatment totals a mere 2% of the active ESS treatment delivered to the intervention group per ESS session, and we consider that this dose is too small to induce a treatment effect.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT02250365. Registered on 18 September 2014.
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StatusUdgivet - 23 feb. 2017

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