Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from JNER and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research

Upper limb impairments associated with spasticity in neurological disorders

Cheng-Chi Tsao1 and Mehdi M Mirbagheri12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Northwestern University, Chicago, USA

2 Sensory Motor Performance Program, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2007, 4:45  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-4-45

Published: 29 November 2007



While upper-extremity movement in individuals with neurological disorders such as stroke and spinal cord injury (SCI) has been studied for many years, the effects of spasticity on arm movement have been poorly quantified. The present study is designed to characterize the nature of impaired arm movements associated with spasticity in these two clinical populations. By comparing impaired voluntary movements between these two groups, we will gain a greater understanding of the effects of the type of spasticity on these movements and, potentially a better understanding of the underlying impairment mechanisms.


We characterized the kinematics and kinetics of rapid arm movement in SCI and neurologically intact subjects and in both the paretic and non-paretic limbs in stroke subjects. The kinematics of rapid elbow extension over the entire range of motion were quantified by measuring movement trajectory and its derivatives; i.e. movement velocity and acceleration. The kinetics were quantified by measuring maximum isometric voluntary contractions of elbow flexors and extensors. The movement smoothness was estimated using two different computational techniques.


Most kinematic and kinetic and movement smoothness parameters changed significantly in paretic as compared to normal arms in stroke subjects (p < 0.003). Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in these parameters between SCI and stroke subjects, except for the movement smoothness (p ≤ 0.02). Extension was significantly less smooth in the paretic compared to the non-paretic arm in the stroke group (p < 0.003), whereas it was within the normal range in the SCI group. There was also no significant difference in these parameters between the non-paretic arm in stroke subjects and the normal arm in healthy subjects.


The findings suggest that although the cause and location of injury are different in spastic stroke and SCI subjects, the impairments in arm voluntary movement were similar in the two spastic groups. Our results also suggest that the non-paretic arm in stroke subjects was not distinguishable from the normal, and might therefore be used as an appropriate control for studying movement of the paretic arm.