Exercise therapy and neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) during the initial 14 days after stroke may benefit recovery of gait. We aimed to determine whether poststroke NMES of vastus medial and tibial muscles during exercise therapy is more effective than exercise therapy alone.
In this proof-of-concept randomised trial patients with first-ever acute ischemic stroke and a leg paresis (40-85 years of age) were randomised (1:1) to 10 min of daily NMES + exercise therapy or exercise therapy alone. Primary outcome was the between-group difference in change in 6 min Walk Test (6MWT) at 90 days post stroke estimated with a mixed regression model. Secondary outcomes included 10 m Walk Test, Fugl-Meyer Motor Assessment, Guralnik Timed Standing Balance, Sit to Stand, Timed Up and Go, EQ-5D-5L, Montreal Cognitive Assessment and Becks Depression Inventory.
50 stroke survivors (25 in each group) with a mean age of 67 years (range 43-83) were included. An insignificant between-group difference in change of 28.3 m (95%CI -16.0 to 72.6, p = 0.23, adjusted for baseline) in 6MWT at 90-days follow-up was found, in favour of the NMES group. All secondary outcomes showed no statistically significant between-group difference. The conclusion was that adding NMES to exercise therapy had no effect on poststroke walking distance measured by the 6 MWT or any of the secondary outcomes.
In this proof-of-concept RCT, we demonstrated that NMES in addition to exercise therapy during the first 14 days after onset of ischemic stroke did not improve walking distance or any of the secondary outcomes. Future studies with a longer trial period, stratifying patients into subgroups with comparable patterns of expected spontaneous recovery – if possible within 48 h post stroke, and greater sample size, than in this study are suggestions of how rehabilitation research could go on exploring the potential for NMES as an amplifier in stroke recovery.

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