I do not have a high level of hand recovery so I look for studies that do not cherry-pick high functioning stroke survivors to test the efficacy of hand rehab. Many studies with positive results start with stroke survivors who already have beginning finger and thumb movement. To decide how excited to get I look at the outcome measures. They are a good way to decide if research results apply to someone like me.
Franck and his associates studied stroke survivors with no spontaneous hand recovery (1).
Group 1 was taught to keep the affected arm/hand in an "optimal condition" and what to do when discomfort occurred. Before rehab, the highest score on the Fugl-Meyer test was a 9 out of 66 which can be achieved with arm movements. After 6 weeks of rehab for 4.5 hours per week, the highest Fugl-Meyer score was a 20 which can be achieved with NO hand or wrist movement.
After rehab, object manipulation on the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT) improved from 0 to 1 out of 57 for the highest functioning subject. This is the bad news.
Group 2 had a very small amount of spontaneous hand recovery as seen by ARAT scores for object manipulation that ranged from 1 to 9 out of 57 (1). Group 2 was given "high-intensity" therapy for 6 hours per week for 6 weeks to use their hand during functional tasks. After rehab the highest ARAT score improved from 9 to 42 out of 57. This dramatic improvement can ONLY be achieved by gaining the ability to pick up objects like a ball. After rehab, the highest Fugl-Meyer score improved from 25 to 54 out of 66. This dramatic improvement can ONLY be achieved with hand and wrist movements. Turning a tiny bit of spontaneous recovery into the ability to manipulate objects is the good news.
1. Franck J, Johannes R, Smeets E, Seelen H. Changes in arm-hand function and arm-hand skill
performance in patients after stroke during and after rehabilitation. PLOS One. 6/21/2017.