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Background: Variation in physiological deficits underlying upper limb paresis after stroke could influence how people recover and to which physical therapy they best respond. Objectives: To determine whether functional strength training (FST) improves upper limb recovery more than movement performance therapy (MPT). To identify: (a) neural correlates of response and (b) whether pre-intervention neural characteristics predict response. Design: Explanatory investigations within a randomised, controlled, observer-blind, and multicentre trial. Randomisation was computer-generated and concealed by an independent facility until baseline measures were completed. Primary time point was outcome, after the 6-week intervention phase. Follow-up was at 6 months after stroke. Participants: With some voluntary muscle contraction in the paretic upper limb, not full dexterity, when recruited up to 60 days after an anterior cerebral circulation territory stroke. Interventions: Conventional physical therapy (CPT) plus either MPT or FST for up to 90 min-a-day, 5 days-a-week for 6 weeks. FST was "hands-off" progressive resistive exercise cemented into functional task training. MPT was "hands-on" sensory/facilitation techniques for smooth and accurate movement. Outcomes: The primary efficacy measure was the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT). Neural measures: fractional anisotropy (FA) corpus callosum midline; asymmetry of corticospinal tracts FA; and resting motor threshold (RMT) of motor-evoked potentials. Analysis: Covariance models tested ARAT change from baseline. At outcome: correlation coefficients assessed relationship between change in ARAT and neural measures; an interaction term assessed whether baseline neural characteristics predicted response. Results: 288 Participants had: mean age of 72.2 (SD 12.5) years and mean ARAT 25.5 (18.2). For 240 participants with ARAT at baseline and outcome the mean change was 9.70 (11.72) for FST + CPT and 7.90 (9.18) for MPT + CPT, which did not differ statistically (p = 0.298). Correlations between ARAT change scores and baseline neural values were between 0.199, p = 0.320 for MPT + CPT RMT (n = 27) and -0.147, p = 0.385 for asymmetry of corticospinal tracts FA (n = 37). Interaction effects between neural values and ARAT change between baseline and outcome were not statistically significant. Conclusions: There was no significant difference in upper limb improvement between FST and MPT. Baseline neural measures did not correlate with upper limb recovery or predict therapy response. Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials: ISRCT 19090862,

Original publication




Journal article


Front Neurol

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magnetic resonance imaging, physical therapy, rehabilitation, stroke, transcranial magnetic stimulation, upper limb; prediction