Vagal Nerve Stimulation Combined with Intense Physical Rehabilitation for Chronic Stroke Patients Results in Long-Term Benefits
In a recent randomized controlled trial, using vagal nerve stimulation alongside intensive physical therapy for patients with chronic stroke led to notable improvements in hand and arm function. The study, conducted by Teresa J. Kimberley, PhD, a rehabilitation science and physical therapy professor at MGH Institute of Health Professions, showcased the potential of this innovative intervention for individuals living with chronic stroke.
Unlike the focus on acute stroke management, the study targeted patients between 9 months to 10 years post-stroke, demonstrating consistent benefits across this diverse time range. This represents a significant advancement in the treatment of chronic stroke, where most interventions typically plateau and decline over time.
One of the key findings of the study was the maintenance of improved hand and arm function up to 1 year post-treatment. While there were limited additional gains after the initial intensive rehabilitation phase, sustaining these benefits over the long term is a remarkable achievement. Typically, chronic stroke patients experience a gradual decline in function, making the sustained improvements observed in this study particularly impactful.
The results of the VNS-REHAB pivotal trial, which included 108 participants with moderate to severe arm and hand impairment post-stroke, highlighted the effectiveness of combining task-specific rehabilitation with active vagal nerve stimulation. This approach led to significant enhancements in motor function, as measured by the Fugl-Meyer Assessment-Upper Extremity (FMA-UE) and the Wolf Motor Function Test (WMFT).
Following the initial in-clinic treatment phase and home exercise program, participants continued with active vagal nerve stimulation exercises for up to 1 year. Despite some limitations in data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the results at the 1-year mark showed sustained improvements in both FMA-UE and WMFT scores compared to baseline measurements.
These findings present a novel and promising approach to enhancing hand and arm function in chronic stroke patients, offering new hope and possibilities in the realm of stroke rehabilitation. By combining vagal nerve stimulation with intensive physical therapy, individuals with chronic stroke may experience long-lasting benefits that can positively impact their quality of life. Stay informed about this groundbreaking research by attending the upcoming International Stroke Conference 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona.