A New Rehabilitation Technique for Stroke Patients

(2/16/07)- Constrained-Induced Movement Therapy: Part II

In an article written 6 years ago, we detailed the work of Dr. Edward Taub, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, who developed Constrained Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT). The underlying rationale for CIMT was that after a stroke, a survivor tries unsuccessfully to use the affected side.

Their initial failure discourages them from using that side. Dr. Taub calls this “learned non-use.” Dr. Taub and his colleagues were attempting to show that patients can "learn" to improve the ability to move the weaker parts of their bodies and thus cease to rely exclusively or primarily on the stronger extremities..

At that time, we noted that the treatment protocol lacked placebo-control verification.

Now, Dr. Taub has led a team to do exactly that. Researchers studied survivors with mild to moderate motor impairment of an upper limb, an average of 4.5 years after stroke. 

Twenty-one survivors (average age 55) underwent Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy: six intensive hours a day for 10 consecutive weekdays.  Twenty survivors (average age 51) had placebo therapy – a general fitness program of strength, balance and stamina training, games to provide cognitive challenges and relaxation exercises for
six hours a day for 10 consecutive weekdays.

CIMT patients showed “large to very large” improvements in the functional use of their affected arm in their daily lives. Scores on a motor activity log (MAL) in which survivors and caregivers noted how well and how much
survivors used their impaired arm in daily living improved an average of 1.8 points for those undergoing CIMT. 

Those in the control group reported no change.  In addition, CIMT patients were able to speed their completion of
tasks in lab testing while the placebo patients were slower.

Another study compared the effects of a 2-week multisite program of CIMT vs. usual and customary care on improvement in upper extremity function among patients who had a first stroke within the previous 3 to 9 months.

Two hundred twenty-two individuals with predominantly ischemic stroke were involved in this study. The results of this research indicated that among patients who a stroke within the previous 3 to 9 months, CIMT had had
statistically significant and clinically relevant improvements in arm motor function that persisted for at least 1 year

With this form of therapy, Dr Taub believes he has shown that patients can "learn" to improve the ability to move the weaker parts of their bodies and thus cease to rely exclusively or primarily on the stronger extremities.

These therapies have significantly improved quality of movement and substantially increased the amount of use of the more-affected extremities in the activities of daily living for a large majority of patients who have received the treatment.

It is the only rehabilitation technique shown to produce a marked change in brain organization and function. This author would suspect that it takes a certain type of motivated person to stick to this 2 week program of intensive therapy.

Parties interested in this form of therapy should note that Dr. Taub’s research laboratory conducts many different CI therapy projects. Treatment in these research studies is at no cost. The requirements for acceptance in these studies depend on the particular projects being carried out at any given time.

The information we have is that the current research projects apply to CI therapy for the arm after stroke or head injury. CI therapy for the leg has been temporarily halted in the laboratory, but it is presently offered in the Taub Therapy Clinic.

At this time, the following CI therapy research projects are actively recruiting for participants:

  a.. Persons who had a stroke 12 months ago or longer. Please contact Nameeta Sarin at:

  Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy Research Group
  University of Alabama at Birmingham
  1530 3rd Avenue South
  CPM 712
  Birmingham, AL 35294-0018
  Phone: (205) 934-9768
  Fax: (205) 975-9791

  b... Persons with traumatic brain injury (head injury). Please contact Staci McKay at:

  CI Therapy/TBI Project
  University of Alabama at Birmingham
  SRC R056
  1717 6th Avenue South
  Birmingham, AL 35294-7201
  Phone: (205) 934-7660
  Fax: (205) 975-9791

In order to use CI therapy, survivors need to be able to extend their wrists and move their arm and fingers. At this time, medical insurance does not reimburse for CI therapy. It costs about $5,000 for two weeks of treatment
at the Taub Therapy Clinic. The phone number is 866-554-TAUB. Taub Therapy Clinic is located at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, 1713 6th Ave. South, Birmingham, Alabama 35233.
Email address is

The following statement was abstracted from their Web site: “Taub Therapy has been proven to be over 95% successful in helping patients in the clinic regain significant movement. Through the one-on-one encouragement of a therapist, patients can relearn to use their affected limb by restricting the use of the unaffected one. By causing neurons to "rewire" themselves, Taub Therapy not only changes the brain, it changes

For those interested in checking primary research studies on CIMT, we suggest you check the following literature:

1.       Taub, E., Uswatte, G., King, D. K., Morris, D. M., Crago, J. E., & Chatterjee, A (2006). A placebo controlled trial of Constraint-Induced Movement therapy for upper extremity after stroke. Stroke, 37, 1045-1049.

2.       Taub, E., & Uswatte, G. (2005). Use of CI therapy for improving motor ability after chronic CNS damage: A development prefigured by Paul Bach-y-Rita.  Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 4, 465-477.

3.       Shaw, S. E., Morris, D. M., Uswatte, G., McKay, S., Abernathy, S., Meythaler, J. M., & Taub, E. (2005). Constraint-Induced Movement therapy for recovery of upper extremity function following traumatic brain injury.
Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 42, 769-778.

4.       JAMA. 2006; 296:2095-2104.

(6/10/2000)- Recent research literature is replete with isolated articles about the brain’s regenerative powers as well as its ability to reorganize itself after injury. Study of regeneration of animal limbs goes back about fifty years. This has led some researchers to propose a new approach in treating stroke patients called constraint-induced-movement therapy.

Stroke: The Journal of the American Heart Association in its June 2000 issue reported on a study done with 13 chronic stroke patients. Patients were forced to use their paralyzed arm by simply immobilizing the good arm. They were given intense therapy on the paralyzed arm for six hours a day for at least two weeks.

The authors of the study report that this is the time needed to stimulate the brain to reorganize itself from its state of being stunned by the initial cause of the stroke. Please see footnote below.

This therapy is based on a theory of learned helplessness that has also been used to explain depression. It attributes the inability to move the arm to the idea that cells surrounding the injured area are stunned but not damaged, remaining in a state of permanent inhibition.

This discourages the individual from using his arm, which reinforces the inability to move the arm (The mind setting reinforcing the felt inability to move the limb.). Constraint-induced-movement therapy attempts to force the individual to use the arm.

The stimulation of trying to use the arm allows for the establishment of new neuropathways that disinhibits the stunned cells. This disinhibition could result in the cells being restored to their former functioning, also in the formation of new pathways bypassing the necrotic cells resulting from the stroke (Plasticity of the brain.).

While this research study has exciting possibilities, especially when it indicates restoration of limb functioning, its generalization should be approached cautiously. The number of subjects involved in the study (thirteen) is a small number.

The study did not use a double blind, experimental-control group paradigm, which would seem to reduce its reliability. However, it does hold out hope for individuals with a limb paralysis disability associated with stroke. The discipline needed to carry on this rehabilitation could prove a difficult barrier to overcome in the population of stroke patients, where depression is a not uncommon secondary effect of the stroke.

A bigger issue would appear to be the type of treatment received just after the expression of a stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a component of the National Insitutes of Health, issued a statement in which they said that experts feel that "few eligible stroke patients receive treatments that save lives and reduce disability".

They note that patients who have ischemic stroke have the most potential of reducing deaths and disabilities. They point to the clinical trial findings "that patients who received t-PA treatment within three hours of their initial stroke symptoms were at least 30% more likely than untreated patients to recover from their stroke with little or no disability after three months". The big problem is that patients arrive at the hospital after the three-hour window for which the thrombolytic treatments work.

It remains most important that individuals recognize the symptoms of stroke and seek immediate attention. The main symptoms listed by the NINDS are:

It will be up to those around a stroke victim to recognize these symptoms and act fast. According to Dr. John R. Marler, associate director for clinical studies at NINDS, "Stroke is a condition that is easy to see. There are few other medical conditions that come on so suddenly and that are so noticeable to a bystander.


E. Taub et. al. (1999). Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy: A
New Family of Techniques with Broad Application to Physical
Rehabilitation - A Clinical Review. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and
Development, 36, 3, 237-251

For more information on stroke see the other articles on this topic in this web site or call the NINDS at 877-562-3434 for a brochure on stroke.


Harold Rubin, MS, ABD, CRC, Guest Lecturer
Updated February 16, 2007

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