Passive stretching has been used by therapists on survivors forever. Does stretching do anything to help recovery? So far as we know- no.
But there are therapists who don’t want to hear this. I do a ton o’ talks on stroke recovery and if you tell some therapists that stretching does not help survivors, therapists can get feisty. “If that doesn’t work what am I supposed to do – they’re tight and can’t move.”
Typically I tell them that they’re probably not doing harm but they’re not helping much either.
The thing is, I’m always reading research to update the message. I found an article that says that if a survivor is stretched, it may help. There are a couple of flys in the ointment, however… In this case, a therapist did not stretch them. Here’s what they did:
- What moved the survivors: Subjects wore an actuated glove orthosis that cyclically moved their fingers and thumb
- How the survivors were moved: From a relaxed/flexed posture into neutral extension
- How long were they moved: 30 minutes on 3 consecutive days
- What they gained: Improvement was observed immediately after the stretching (this is to be expected- stretching does have a short term effect, although any long-term effect is questionable). Here’s the potential new news: largely maintained up to 1 hour poststretching, with significant carryover for the 3 days for some outcomes. That was true for what they called “subacute” survivors (defined as “2 to 6 months”- which is a misrepresentation of “subacute” after stroke) but not true (it did not work as well) in “chronic” survivors.
So, what have we learned? Stretching a survivor passively with a computer-driven actuated glove orthosis– if they are 2-6 months after the stroke– provides some short term benefits.
And they wonder why everyone outside of research hates research…