How is Technology Improving Stroke Rehab?

How is Technology Improving Stroke Rehab?

Right now is an exciting time for research in stroke recovery. As technology continues to advance, better tools are being developed each day to help assist and rehabilitate. Let’s look now at some of the new types of therapies that have come about.

Robot-Assisted Therapy

Robot assisted therapy is just what it sounds like. Instead of a physical therapist coaching or helping a patient work through exercises, a specially designed robot takes this role instead. There are robots for training upper-extremity tasks such as reaching, and also lower extremity tasks like walking. An example of an upper body machine is the MIT-MANUS, which is pictured below. The machine essentially straps onto the patient and helps guide them through their exercises just like a therapist would.

Research has found this sort of therapy to be just as effective as or potentially better than conventional therapy, since a robot can help a patient do many more repetitions than what may be possible in a single session with a therapist.[1-3] Furthermore, compact robots can be taken home, so patients can practice daily, which speeds recovery. A recent trend in this type of work is to have users play video games as they work with their robot. Such fun games increase mental engagement in patients, which coupled with the more frequent practice spells out greater motivation for therapy and most importantly, faster results.[4,5]

how is technology improving stroke rehab

The MIT-MANUS, a robot for upper extremity rehabilitation.

Brain Computer Interfaces and Therapy

Another innovative type of treatment that has recently come about is brain-computer interface (BCI) controlled therapy. In one variant of BCI, patients will wear an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, a device that can measure their brain waves. This cap can pick up different signals, like the brain’s intention to move a limb, and output it for a computer to process. After being processed, the user can control different outputs ranging from a cursor on a screen, or a functional-electrical stimulation (FES) system all through thought alone. [6]

Focusing on the FES system, this device helps a user contract their muscle via a safe amount of electrical stimulation. By reading the patient’s intent to move their impaired limb, the BCI system can then fire up the FES system at the right moment, and help a patient move their impaired limb at the same time their brain commands them to. This computer assisted coordination between the patient’s brain and muscle is beneficial because it helps reestablish the original communication between body and mind, which is crucial to regaining function. This type of therapy takes rigorous time and training in order to calibrate the BCI properly. Research at UCI using an ankle FES system even found that chronic patients were able to improve function after such therapy. [7]

Likewise, robot assisted therapy can be coupled to a BCI system to monitor the patient’s mental engagement in the task. The robot can then be programmed to prevent the patient from falling asleep or losing interest during their therapy using different software algorithms. These are just some examples of the wonderful new ways technology is improving stroke rehabilitation. [8]

Although recovery may seem to be a daunting task, everyday new devices like the MusicGlove are being developed that make rehabilitation more convenient, fun, and effective. Furthermore, scientists and engineers are uncovering new discoveries and ways to improve therapy, like with BCI research. If this article has piqued your curiosity, talk to your doctor and therapist to see if any of these options are right for you.

How has technology improved your recovery? Leave us a comment below to share your story with our community!

About the Author:

Yasemin Sarigul is a PhD student at the University of California, Irvine. Currently they are working on a novel robotic device for gait rehab in stroke and spinal cord injury. Their profession interests include mechanical design, robotics, mathematics, gait, and control theory.


[1] Lum, Peter S., et al. “Robot-assisted movement training compared with conventional therapy techniques for the rehabilitation of upper-limb motor function after stroke.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 83.7 (2002): 952-959.

[2] Husemann, Britta, et al. “Effects of locomotion training with assistance of a robot-driven gait orthosis in hemiparetic patients after stroke a randomized controlled pilot study.” Stroke 38.2 (2007): 349-354.

[3] Lum, Peter, et al. “Robotic devices for movement therapy after stroke: current status and challenges to clinical acceptance.” (2015).

[4] Friedman, Nizan, et al. “Retraining and assessing hand movement after stroke using the MusicGlove: comparison with conventional hand therapy and isometric grip training.” J Neuroeng Rehabil (2014).

[5] Alankus, Gazihan, et al. “Towards customizable games for stroke rehabilitation.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2010.

[6] Curran, Eleanor A., and Maria J. Stokes. “Learning to control brain activity: a review of the production and control of EEG components for driving brain–computer interface (BCI) systems.” Brain and cognition 51.3 (2003): 326-336.

[7] McCrimmon, Colin M., et al. “Brain-controlled functional electrical stimulation for lower-limb motor recovery in stroke survivors.” Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC), 2014 36th Annual International Conference of the IEEE. IEEE, 2014.

[8] Norman, Sumner Lee. Movement Anticipation and EEG: Implications for BCI-Contingent Robot Therapy. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE, 2014.