Rehabilitation Interventions for Upper Limb Function in the First Four Weeks Following Stroke

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Evidence



To investigate the therapeutic interventions reported in the research literature and synthesize their effectiveness in improving upper limb (UL) function in the first 4 weeks poststroke.

Data Sources

Electronic databases and trial registries were searched from inception until June 2016, in addition to searching systematic reviews by hand.

Study Selection

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), controlled trials, and interventional studies with pre/posttest design were included for adults within 4 weeks of any type of stroke with UL impairment. Participants all received an intervention of any physiotherapeutic or occupational therapeutic technique designed to address impairment or activity of the affected UL, which could be compared with usual care, sham, or another technique.

Data Extraction

Two reviewers independently assessed eligibility of full texts, and methodological quality of included studies was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool.

Data Synthesis

A total of 104 trials (83 RCTs, 21 nonrandomized studies) were included (N=5225 participants). Meta-analyses of RCTs only (20 comparisons) and narrative syntheses were completed. Key findings included significant positive effects for modified constraint-induced movement therapy (mCIMT) (standardized mean difference [SMD]=1.09; 95% confidence interval [CI], .21–1.97) and task-specific training (SMD=.37; 95% CI, .05–.68). Evidence was found to support supplementary use of biofeedback and electrical stimulation. Use of Bobath therapy was not supported.


Use of mCIMT and task-specific training was supported, as was supplementary use of biofeedback and electrical simulation, within the acute phase poststroke. Further high-quality studies into the initial 4 weeks poststroke are needed to determine therapies for targeted functional UL outcomes.

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