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Mittens May Aid Stroke Recovery

Novel Constraining Therapy Helps Patients Perform Everyday Tasks
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 21, 2006 (Kissimmee, Fla.) -- Mittens are the latest weapon in the war against stroke, researchers report.

In a new study, stroke victims who had their "good" arms immobilized with a splint-like mitt for two weeks fared better than those who received standard physical therapy. For example, they could more easily perform everyday tasks such as answering the phone, according to researcher Steven L. Wolf, PhD.

Wolf, a stroke rehabilitation specialist at Emory University in Atlanta, estimates that about one in four stroke victims could benefit from the therapy. He reported the results at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference here.

Treatment Forces Use of Impaired Arm

About 700,000 Americans have a stroke each year, and many are left paralyzed in one arm or leg. The new treatment, called constraint therapy, aims to help stroke victims regain use of the impaired limb more quickly than standard rehabilitation exercises.

"Putting the 'good' arm in a mitten forces the patient to use his impaired arm," says Larry B. Goldstein, MD, director of the Duke Center for Cerebrovascular Medicine at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and an American Heart Association spokesman. "This appears to achieve better results than standard physical therapy alone," says Goldstein, who was not involved with the study.

For the study, Wolf and colleagues randomly assigned 222 people who had suffered moderate strokes in the previous three to nine months to get standard rehabilitation therapy or constraint therapy.

Both groups received six hours of intense physical therapy a day for two weeks. But people in the constraint therapy group also had their healthy arms immobilized in a splint-like mitt. Both groups improved, but those who underwent the constraint therapy fared even better, the study showed.

Tasks Become Easier

While Wolf would not share details with the audience pending publication in a major medical journal, a videotape shown at the conference told the story.

At the start of the trial, one stroke victim could barely grasp a telephone, repeatedly knocking it off the handset. It took more than a minute for him to even pick the handset up. Six weeks after constraint therapy, the man showed significant improvement, much more easily grasping the phone and making a call.

Goldstein says the "data look promising. The issue now is how much it will affect quality of life over time."

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