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Pioneering research trial begins to help stroke recovery

04 June 2014

Health Care

Rehabilitation staff at Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust have launched a pioneering research trial aimed at helping those paralysed by stroke.

Thanks to a £10,000 grant from the Department of Health the rehab team will study the effects of "mirror imaging" on patients where one arm is completely paralysed as a result of the stroke.

Patients taking part in the trial will be encouraged to undertake daily therapy using a mirror box which encourages their paralysed arm to mimic the movement in their healthy limb.

Joanne Lay, clinical inpatient rehabilitation lead explains: "The use of mirror imaging as therapy has been used extensively for supporting the rehabilitation of amputees but until now no-one has explored its potential in helping stroke patients regain movement.

"It is a simple therapy but if it works for our patients it could really have a dramatic impact of their level of recovery. This is very exciting and could ultimately benefit patients nationwide."

The mirror box works by inserting the impaired arm into the box while viewing the working arm on the external mirror.

When the working arm is moved the brain is "tricked" into thinking it is the paralysed arm and thus helps rebuild connections in the brain damaged by the stroke.

The trial will test two groups of patients over a six week period. The first group will use the mirror box for three weeks with standard upper limb followed by a three week period of standard physiotherapy.

The second group will receive standard physiotherapy for three weeks and then the groups will switch to standard physiotherapy with the mirror box for a further three weeks.

At the beginning, after three weeks and at the end of the treatment the participants will undergo tests, including an MRI to see how the brain has reacted and then again after three weeks of inactivity.

Joanne and colleague Aarti Sharma, a senior physiotherapist will work with patients on the hospital's award winning stroke unit who agree to be part of the trial.

Patients will be encouraged to a minimum of 15mins with the box three times a day.

Joanne says: "The great thing about this therapy is that it is non-invasive and entirely led by the patient. While we can offer a range of rehabilitative treatments for those who have limited movement, for those who have suffered complete paralysis in one arm there is very little we can currently do. We hope this research will change that."

Once the results of the six week trial are collated, the team will then look to host a national research project with other stroke units to fully test the therapy. If shown to be effective, this therapy could end up as a recommended treatment in all parts of the world.

Joanne adds: "It's tremendously exciting that our patients here in Southend could eventually influence and revolutionise the future care of stroke."