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Device May Extend Treatment Window for Arm Spasticity

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Posted: 1/4/2012

 COLUMBUS, Ohio – At the age of 33, a rare stroke nearly ended the life of Sabrina Pridham. After several days in intensive care and more than two months as an inpatient for physical therapy, the only visible reminder she has from that spring day in 2000 is a tightness, or spasticity in one arm that makes ordinary tasks such as tying shoes or cutting food impossible.

Experts generally agree that if stroke patients don’t recover the use of their affected limbs within three to six months after a stroke, the chance that the arm or leg will become functional is minimal. With the help of a special device, Pridham hopes to be one of the first patients in the country to show that improvement is possible, perhaps even as long as 12 years later.

Pridham is involved in a study at The Ohio State University Medical Center testing a robotic arm brace to determine if it can help repair nerve damage by “waking up” unused neurological pathways or possibly using alternate pathways to take control of her arm movement.

The device, when strapped to her affected left arm, senses Pridham’s own remaining muscle signals and provides motorized assistance to force completion of the arm movement. For Pridham, the device makes possible everyday tasks such flipping on a light switch or eaching for a cup from the kitchen cabinet.

“I was very surprised at how easy it was to use,” said Pridham. “Simply because all it needed was a small message from the brain, and it immediately responded.” 

The study’s principal investigator thinks the one-pound robotic device may lead to measured improvement months, or perhaps years, after the window of time when arm movement is expected to respond best to therapy.

“We believe that the repetition may turn on the brain,” said Stephen Page, an associate professor of occupational therapy at The Ohio State University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “If we can restore even partial arm movement in patients who have spasticity we will have helped them move a step closer toward greater independence,” he added.

Earlier studies by Page and his team have shown preliminary success with the device.

He acknowledges that there is more of a challenge for recovery of motion the longer that time elapses after a stroke. “About 80 percent of stroke survivors have some sort of upper extremity impairment, and stroke is the leading cause of disability in the whole country. So, there’s a lot of stroke survivors out there who have this problem.”

The study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The device is manufactured by Myomo of Cambridge, MA.

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Broadcast quality video and soundbites are available at: http://bit.ly/sATq01

For a high-quality JPEG of Stephen Page, go to: http://go.osu.edu/G8S

For a high-quality JPEG of Sabrina Pridham, go to: http://go.osu.edu/G8U

 Contact: David Crawford, Medical Center Public Affairs and Media Relations, 614-293-3737, or Crawford.1@osu.edu