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Open Access Study protocol

The efficacy of SMART Arm training early after stroke for stroke survivors with severe upper limb disability: a protocol for a randomised controlled trial

Sandra G Brauer1*, Kathryn S Hayward1, Richard G Carson234, Andrew G Cresswell4 and Ruth N Barker5

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Physiotherapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia

2 Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience & School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

3 School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom

4 School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia

5 Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine & Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University Townsville, Townsville, Australia

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BMC Neurology 2013, 13:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-13-71

Published: 2 July 2013

Abstract

Background

Recovery of upper limb function after stroke is poor. The acute to subacute phase after stroke is the optimal time window to promote the recovery of upper limb function. The dose and content of training provided conventionally during this phase is however, unlikely to be adequate to drive functional recovery, especially in the presence of severe motor disability. The current study concerns an approach to address this shortcoming, through evaluation of the SMART Arm, a non-robotic device that enables intensive and repetitive practice of reaching by stroke survivors with severe upper limb disability, with the aim of improving upper limb function. The outcomes of SMART Arm training with or without outcome-triggered electrical stimulation (OT-stim) to augment movement and usual therapy will be compared to usual therapy alone.

Methods/Design

A prospective, assessor-blinded parallel, three-group randomised controlled trial is being conducted. Seventy-five participants with a first-ever unilateral stroke less than 4 months previously, who present with severe arm disability (three or fewer out of a possible six points on the Motor Assessment Scale [MAS] Item 6), will be recruited from inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Participants will be randomly allocated to one of three dose-matched groups: SMART Arm training with OT-stim and usual therapy; SMART Arm training without OT-stim and usual therapy; or usual therapy alone. All participants will receive 20 hours of upper limb training over four weeks. Blinded assessors will conduct four assessments: pre intervention (0-weeks), post intervention (4-weeks), 26 weeks and 52 weeks follow-up. The primary outcome measure is MAS item 6. All analyses will be based on an intention-to-treat principle.

Discussion

By enabling intensive and repetitive practice of a functional upper limb task during inpatient rehabilitation, SMART Arm training with or without OT-stim in combination with usual therapy, has the potential to improve recovery of upper limb function in those with severe motor disability. The immediate and long-term effects of SMART Arm training on upper limb impairment, activity and participation will be explored, in addition to the benefit of training with or without OT-stim to augment movement when compared to usual therapy alone.

Trial registration

ACTRN12608000457347

Keywords:
Stroke; Upper limb; Function; Training; Rehabilitation