Upper extremity hemiplegia after stroke is common and disabling. Apart from conventional physical and occupational therapy, a number of additional approaches that use devices such as orthoses, prostheses, electrical stimulation, and robots have been introduced. The purpose of this review was to assess the clinical efficacy of such devices used for the affected upper extremities of acute, subacute, and chronic stroke patients. Assessments of their effectiveness and recommendations were based on the weight of published scientific evidence. The amount of evidence with respect to hand splints and shoulder slings is limited. Further study with a well-designed randomized controlled trial (RCT) is required to investigate accurately their short- and long-term efficacy. A number of studies suggested that the use of electrical stimulation for reducing shoulder subluxation or improving the function of wrist and finger extensors is effective during or shortly after the daily treatment period. The robotic approach to hemiplegic upper extremities appears to be a novel therapeutic strategy that may help improve hand and arm function. However, the longer term effectiveness after discontinuation as well as the motor recovery mechanism of electrical stimulation or robotic devices remains unclear. More research is needed to determine the evidence-based effectiveness of electrical stimulation or other devices for stroke survivors.
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