Arm and hand strength is essential in our day-to-day life. Without it or with a reduced capacity, simple things like opening a door, feeding ourselves, and even buttoning shirts can be challenging. This loss of strength happens to people who suffer from a stroke.
About 50 percent of stroke patients experience upper extremity impairment. To determine the severity of one’s functional deficit, specialists look into the patient’s grip strength. It is one of the best predictors of functional deficiency following a stroke.
Several studies indicate the correlation of specific factors and the reduction of hand function following stroke. However, less is known about the contribution of finger weakness and reduced finger individuation (the ability to move one finger at a time) to the reduction in hand function. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Idaho and the University of California at Irvine aimed to answer these questions.
About the Study
Researchers recruited 26 participants who had a stroke. The patients used the FINGER, a robotic exoskeleton device for their robot-assisted hand therapy. The patient places his hand into the robotic device, and the robotic hand helps with movement. These patients underwent several tests that measured finger dexterity before and after the three-week training period. These tests were the Box and Blocks test (where a patient transfers as many blocks as possible from one box to another in a minute) and the Nine-Hole Peg test (a timed test where a patient moves pegs from a container, one by one, and places them into holes on a board). The Fugl-Meyer test was also used and uses a variety of methods to measure different categories of functionality and mobility.
The results of the study suggest that the loss of finger strength and loss of finger individuation are two motor impairments that can lead to diminished hand function following stroke.
What does this mean for you?
In order to improve hand function following stroke, it’s important to train not just grip strength but also the movements and function of individual fingers.
Robot-assisted therapy is becoming popular in stroke rehabilitation. Unlike the conventional stroke rehab where you have to wait to get started, you can start robot-assisted therapy sooner. This form of treatment uses a robotic exoskeleton, a type of wearable device that enables the patient to move. You can purchase these devices online to help you improve your hand functionality.
Prices for robotic exoskeleton vary. Simple robotic devices such as this one from eBay can be as low as $69 while more advanced ones can cost over $500.
Many manufacturers request an evaluation from a licensed physiotherapist to determine if the device they’re selling is suitable for you.
When it comes to insurance coverage, most companies don’t cover it due to the cost. However, you can always ask.
If the robotic exoskeleton device is too expensive for you right now, you’ll be glad to know that some rehabilitation centers incorporate robotic therapy. That can be a more feasible and practical option.
The lead author of the study is Eric T. Wolbrecht from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Idaho.