Background There are an estimated 62 million stroke survivors worldwide. The majority will have long-term disability. Despite this reality, there have been few large, high-quality randomized controlled trials of stroke rehabilitation interventions.
Summary of review There is excellent evidence for the effectiveness of a number of stroke rehabilitation interventions, notably care of stroke patients in inpatient stroke units and stroke rehabilitation units providing organized, goal-focused care via a multidisciplinary team. Stroke units (in comparison with care on general medical wards) effectively reduce death and disability with the number needed to treat to prevent one person from failing to regain independence being 20. Unfortunately, only a minority of stroke patients have access to stroke unit care. The key principles of effective stroke rehabilitation have been identified. These include (1) a functional approach targeted at specific activities e.g. walking, activities of daily living, (2) frequent and intense practice, and (3) commencement in the first days or weeks after stroke.
Conclusion The most effective approaches to restoration of brain function after stroke remain unknown and there is an urgent need for more high-quality research. In the meantime, simple, broadly applicable stroke rehabilitation interventions with proven efficacy, particularly stroke unit care, must be applied more widely.