Rehabilitation goals for chronic stroke patients are largely focused around regaining functional ability and independence, with particular focus on upper limb motor function. Unilateral and Bilateral motor training may help achieve this. Our objective was to evaluate and compare the effects of unilateral and bilateral motor training on upper limb motor function in chronic stroke patients.
A comprehensive literature search was conducted until June 2020 through several electronic databases (CENTRAL, Medline, CINAHL, EBSCO, AMED and PEDro) to identify relevant studies. Studies that used the Fugl Meyer Assessment (FMA) as a minimum, to assess upper limb motor function following unilateral versus bilateral training in chronic stroke patients, qualified for inclusion within the review. Randomised controlled trial (RCT), cohort study and cross-sectional study designs were considered. The Cochrane risk of bias tool was used to assess Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs). The findings were qualitatively synthesised.
From a total of 838 studies identified, 7 RCTs were included in this review. All except one of the studies included reported an unclear risk of bias, with one low risk of bias reported. Overall, the studies reported that unilateral and bilateral training improved upper limb function in chronic stroke patients. Improvements between interventions were equivocal. Bilateral upper limb training however may be more efficacious for increasing upper limb strength and quality of movement, with unilateral training more beneficial for recovering functional ability for activities of daily living.
While the findings of the included studies support the use of unilateral and bilateral motor training post chronic stroke, the seven studies that were included methodologically all presented with limitations, hence strong conclusions cannot be drawn and further research is warranted.