Every year around 15 million people globally have a stroke; it’s the third most common cause of death in the UK and the leading cause of severe disability. Our pioneering research could help people regain movement in their arms and hands much more effectively after having a stroke.
A stroke causes cells in the brain to become damaged or die, breaking the connections between the brain and the muscles and often preventing the person from moving their limbs.
Currently only around five per cent of people who lose hand and arm movement after a stroke go on to regain useful function of the limb. This is partly because their impaired movement means they can’t easily practise exercises.
To help tackle this problem, Southampton scientists are conducting the first randomised controlled trial in the world to study the combination of cortical stimulation with robot therapy for both the arm and hand.
The rehabilitation robot supports the arm and helps it to move, enabling patients to regain movement and coordination. While practising in the robot, a low-level continuous electrical current is passed through electrodes on the head, which helps the brain send signals to make the muscles move.
Alongside this, the team is studying the effect of using functional electrical stimulation to activate the arm directly while the participants are exercising in the robot. This helps the patient to perform simple tasks repeatedly and so recover useful movement.
Jane Burridge, Professor of Restorative Neuroscience, is leading the study. She says: “Through our research across the different disciplines, and with the help of people who have had a stroke, we are really hoping to transform the recovery process and make life more manageable for those who find themselves in that situation in the future.”