The immediate effects of EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation on cortical excitability and grip control in people with chronic stroke
AIM The aim of this study was to identify the immediate effects on cortical excitability and grip control of a short intervention of EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation, compared to voluntary activation of the finger flexor muscles, in people with chronic stroke. STUDY DESIGN This experimental study used a within-subject design with experimental and control interventions. PARTICIPANTS Fifteen people with chronic stroke participated in the study. INTERVENTION Participants performed a simple force tracking task with or without EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation of the finger flexor muscles. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Cortical excitability was measured by single and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Multi-digit grip control accuracy was measured during ramp and sine wave force tracking tasks. Maximal grip strength was measured before and after each intervention to monitor muscle fatigue. RESULTS No significant increases in cortico-motor excitability were found. Intracortical inhibition significantly increased following the EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation intervention immediately post-intervention (t = 2.466, p = .036), and at 10 minutes post-intervention (t = 2.45, p = .04). Accuracy during one component of the force tracking tasks significantly improved (F(1, 14) = 4.701, p = .048), following both EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation and voluntary activation interventions. Maximal grip strength reduced significantly following both interventions, after the assessment of cortical excitability (F(1, 8) = 9.197, p = .16), and grip control (F(1, 14) = 9.026, p = .009). CONCLUSIONS EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation during short duration force tracking training does not increase cortical excitability in participants with chronic stroke. Short duration force tracking training both with and without EMG-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation leads to improvements in training-specific aspects of grip control in people with chronic stroke.