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Focal vibration of the plantarflexor and dorsiflexor muscles improves poststroke spasticity: a randomized single-blind controlled trial.

BACKGROUND: Post-stroke spasticity is a cause of gait dysfunction and disability. Focal vibration (FV) of agonist-antagonist upper limb muscle pairs reduces flexor spasticity; however, its effects on ankle plantarflexor spasticity are uncertain.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the effects of focal vibration administered by a trained operator to the ankle plantarflexor and dorsiflexor muscles on post-stroke lower limb spasticity.

METHODS: A randomized, single-blind controlled trial of 64 participants with stroke and plantarflexor spasticity assigned to 3 groups by centralized, computer-generated randomization (1:1:1): 1) physiotherapy alone (CON), 2) physiotherapy+gastrocnemius vibration (FV_GM) and 3) physiotherapy+tibialis anterior vibration (FV_TA). Physiotherapists and assessors were blinded to group assignment. The experimental groups underwent 15, 20-min vibration sessions at 40 Hz. We performed evaluations at baseline and after the final treatment: Modified Ashworth Scale (MAS), Clonus scale, Functional Ambulation Categories (FAC), Fugl-Meyer Assessment - Lower Extremity (FMA_LE), Modified Barthel Index (MBI), and electromyography and ultrasound elastography. Primary outcome was remission rate (number and proportion of participants) of the MAS.

RESULTS: MAS remission rate was higher in FV_GM and FV_TA than CON groups (CON vs. FV_GM: p=0.009, odds ratio 0.15 [95% confidence interval 0.03-0.67]; CON vs. FV_TA: p=0.002, 0.12 [0.03-0.51]). Remission rate was higher in the experimental than CON groups for the Clonus scale (CON vs. FV_GM: p<0.001, OR 0.07 [95% CI 0.01-0.31]; CON vs. FV_TA: p=0.006, 0.14 [95% CI 0.03-0.61]). FAC remission rate was higher in the FV_TA than the CON (p=0.009, 0.18 [0.05-0.68]) and FV_GM (p=0.014, 0.27 [0.07-0.99]) groups. Ultrasound variables of the paretic medial gastrocnemius decreased more in FV_GM than CON and FV_TA groups (shear modulus: p=0.006; shear wave velocity: p=0.008).

CONCLUSIONS: Focal vibration reduced post-stroke spasticity of the plantarflexor muscles. Vibration of the tibialis anterior improved ambulation more than vibration of the gastrocnemius or physiotherapy alone. Gastrocnemius vibration may reduce spasticity by changing muscle stiffness.

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