In people who have had a stroke, upper limb paresis affects many activities of daily life. Reducing disability is therefore a major aim of rehabilitative interventions. Despite preserving or recovering movement ability after stroke, sometimes people do not fully realise this ability in their everyday activities. Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) is an approach to stroke rehabilitation that involves the forced use and massed practice of the affected arm by restraining the unaffected arm. This has been proposed as a useful tool for recovering abilities in everyday activities.
To assess the efficacy of CIMT, modified CIMT (mCIMT), or forced use (FU) for arm management in people with hemiparesis after stroke.
We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group trials register (last searched June 2015), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2015), MEDLINE (1966 to January 2015), EMBASE (1980 to January 2015), CINAHL (1982 to January 2015), and the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro; January 2015).
Randomised control trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs comparing CIMT, mCIMT or FU with other rehabilitative techniques, or none.
One author identified trials from the results of the electronic searches according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria, three review authors independently assessed methodological quality and risk of bias, and extracted data. The primary outcome was disability.
We included 42 studies involving 1453 participants. The trials included participants who had some residual motor power of the paretic arm, the potential for further motor recovery and with limited pain or spasticity, but tended to use the limb little, if at all. The majority of studies were underpowered (median number of included participants was 29) and we cannot rule out small-trial bias. Eleven trials (344 participants) assessed disability immediately after the intervention, indicating a non-significant standard mean difference (SMD) 0.24 (95% confidence interval (CI) -0.05 to 0.52) favouring CIMT compared with conventional treatment. For the most frequently reported outcome, arm motor function (28 studies involving 858 participants), the SMD was 0.34 (95% CI 0.12 to 0.55) showing a significant effect (P value 0.004) in favour of CIMT. Three studies involving 125 participants explored disability after a few months of follow-up and found no significant difference, SMD -0.20 (95% CI -0.57 to 0.16) in favour of conventional treatment.
CIMT is a multi-faceted intervention where restriction of the less affected limb is accompanied by increased exercise tailored to the person's capacity. We found that CIMT was associated with limited improvements in motor impairment and motor function, but that these benefits did not convincingly reduce disability. This differs from the result of our previous meta-analysis where there was a suggestion that CIMT might be superior to traditional rehabilitation. Information about the long-term effects of CIMT is scarce. Further trials studying the relationship between participant characteristics and improved outcomes are required.