Oct. 19, 2004 -- Specialized arm exercises may actually lead to brain
changes during stroke recovery, a new study
The results were seen in a stroke recovery program called BATRAC (bilateral
arm training with rhythmic auditory cueing).
BATRAC differs from regular workouts and traditional therapeutic exercises.
It uses sound cues to signal participants to start pushing or pulling on two
T-bar handles, either using both arms at the same time or taking turns with
BATRAC was recently compared to traditional stroke recovery exercises by
researchers including Andreas Luft, MD, of the gerontology and medicine
departments at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore,
Having studied BATRAC before, Luft and colleagues already knew that it
improved arm function during stroke recovery.
This time, they wanted to see how BATRAC affected the brain during stroke
Twenty-one patients in stroke recovery took part. Their strokes occurred an
average of four years prior to the start of the study. They all had limited
movement on one side of their bodies but were still able to move their
The researchers randomly assigned participants to try BATRAC or to do
traditional stroke recovery exercises such as opening a closed fist, bearing weight on the stroke-affected arm, and moving the
shoulder blade and upper spine.
Both stroke recovery groups did their exercises for one hour a day, three
times per week, for six weeks.
All but three of the nine BATRAC exercisers showed brain activation during
the arm movements.
When all stroke recovery patients were taken into account, there was no
significant difference between the BATRAC and regular treatment groups.
However, when the researchers looked specifically at the BATRAC stroke recovery
patients that showed fMRI brain changes, their arm function improved
significantly more than the others.
The traditional rehabilitation group showed "no significant changes in the
activation on either side of the brain," write the researchers in the Oct. 20
issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
BATRAC may help the brain reorganize itself during stroke recovery, they
It's too early to tell what makes BATRAC work. The use of both arms, the
rhythm of the sound cues, or the intensity of the exercises might
The researchers don't dismiss traditional therapeutic exercises, noting that
those routines could have brain benefits not seen in this study due to its
Larger studies are needed to explore BATRAC's effects during stroke
recovery, they say.