Effects of Robot-Assisted Therapy for the Upper Limb after Stroke

Janne M. Veerbeek*, Anneli C. Langbroek-Amersfoort, Erwin E.H. Van Wegen, Carel G.M. Meskers, Gert Kwakkel

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


    Background. Robot technology for poststroke rehabilitation is developing rapidly. A number of new randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have investigated the effects of robot-assisted therapy for the paretic upper limb (RT-UL). Objective. To systematically review the effects of poststroke RT-UL on measures of motor control of the paretic arm, muscle strength and tone, upper limb capacity, and basic activities of daily living (ADL) in comparison with nonrobotic treatment. Methods. Relevant RCTs were identified in electronic searches. Meta-analyses were performed for measures of motor control (eg, Fugl-Meyer Assessment of the arm; FMA arm), muscle strength and tone, upper limb capacity, and basic ADL. Subgroup analyses were applied for the number of joints involved, robot type, timing poststroke, and treatment contrast. Results. Forty-four RCTs (N = 1362) were included. No serious adverse events were reported. Meta-analyses of 38 trials (N = 1206) showed significant but small improvements in motor control (∼2 points FMA arm) and muscle strength of the paretic arm and a negative effect on muscle tone. No effects were found for upper limb capacity and basic ADL. Shoulder/elbow robotics showed small but significant effects on motor control and muscle strength, while elbow/wrist robotics had small but significant effects on motor control. Conclusions. RT-UL 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. The impact of RT-UL started in the first weeks poststroke remains unclear. These limited findings could mainly be related to poor understanding of robot-induced motor learning as well as inadequate designing of RT-UL trials, by not applying an appropriate selection of stroke patients with a potential to recovery at baseline as well as the lack of fixed timing of baseline assessments and using an insufficient treatment contrast early poststroke.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)107-121
    Number of pages15
    JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • activities of daily living
    • meta-analysis
    • review
    • robotics
    • stroke
    • upper extremity


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