Occupational therapy for stroke patients: A systematic review

Esther M.J. Steultjens, Joost Dekker, Jos C.M. Van de Nes, Edith H.C. Cup, Cornelia H.M. Van den Ende, L.M. Bouter

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Background and Purpose - Occupational therapy (OT) is an important aspect of stroke rehabilitation. The objective of this study was to determine from the available literature whether OT interventions improve outcome for stroke patients. Methods - An extensive search in MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, AMED, and SCISEARCH was performed. Studies with controlled and uncontrolled designs were included. Seven intervention categories were distinguished and separately analyzed. If a quantitative approach (meta-analysis) of data analysis was not appropriate, a qualitative approach (best-evidence synthesis), based on the type of design, methodological quality, and significant findings of outcome and/or process measures, was performed. Results - Thirty-two studies were included in this review, of which 18 were randomized controlled trials. Ten randomized controlled trials had a high methodological quality. For the comprehensive OT intervention, the pooled standardized mean difference for primary activities of daily living (ADL) (0.46; CI, 0.04 to 0.88), extended ADL (0.32; CI, 0.00 to 0.64), and social participation (0.33; CI, 0.03 to 0.62) favored treatment. For the training of skills intervention, some evidence for improvement in primary ADL was found. Insufficient evidence was found to indicate that the provision of splints is effective in decreasing muscle tone. Conclusions - This review identified small but significant effect sizes for the efficacy of comprehensive OT on primary ADL, extended ADL, and social participation. These results correspond to the outcome of a systematic review of intensified rehabilitation for stroke patients. The amount of evidence with respect to specific interventions, however, is limited. More research is needed to enable evidence-based OT for stroke patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-686
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003


  • Meta-analysis
  • Occupational therapy
  • Stroke

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