June 2017: Veerbeek et al (2017) Effects of robot-assisted therapy for upper limb after stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 3(230, 107-121. DOI: 10.1177/1545968316666957
Do we employ technology in patients with stroke after there is evidence that it is effective, or do we employ it on the basis of theory, for example, it increases the amount of repetitions in task-specific training? It’s a tricky question, but keep in mind that much of what we used to do in stroke rehabilitation was never clinically proven before we employed it! In fact, in some instances, for example splinting after stroke, evidence has since demonstrated that it is ineffective, and now we have the challenge of convincing some health professionals to NOT use it in therapy!! It is a chicken-and-the-egg situation, isn’t it? Which comes first?
To add to this tricky’ness is the issue of what to do when evidence, even high-level evidence like a systematic review and meta-analysis, does not clearly indicate either way. This is the result of Veerbeek et al’s study. In their conclusion they state: “RT-UL [robotic-assisted therapy for the paretic upper limb] allows patients to increase the number of repetitions and hence intensity of practice poststroke, and appears to be a safe therapy. Effects on motor control are small and specific to the joints targeted by RT-UL, whereas no generalization is found to improvements in upper limb capacity”.
It’s very easy to wish for a more definitive result, but this is what the researchers found. Still well worth reading. You’ll find “Humble Opinion” in its usual place under this topic on the 2017 Journal Club page.