The use of shoulder orthoses post-stroke: effects on balance and gait. A systematic review.Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2020 Jun 16 [Online ahead of print]EJ
Since there is no clear conclusion concerning the use of arm slings in the prevention or reduction of shoulder subluxation or shoulder pain in stroke patients, it seems important to explore other potentially beneficial effects. Earlier research already suggested that the upper limb might play a considerable role in efficient balance and gait in stroke patients. Therefore, the aim of this systematic review was to investigate the effects of wearing an arm sling on balance and/or gait in stroke patients. This information could support the decision-making concerning the use of shoulder orthoses after stroke.
Four electronic databases (Pubmed/MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science and CINAHL/EBSCO) were searched until April 8th 2019. Search alerts were set and followed until January 2020 to assure no new eligible articles were published. Reference lists of included studies were hand searched. All studies examining the effect of wearing an upper limb orthosis on balance and gait in stroke patients were included. Two reviewers independently identified eligible studies and extracted data. The methodological quality of included trials was assessed using the QualSyst assessment tool for quantitative studies. Prospero registration number: CRD42019130282.
Ten studies, examining 283 stroke patients with moderate to low level of upper limb impairment, were included in the quantitative synthesis of the results. The pooled mean time since stroke was 21.88 ± 9.03 months. Only minor effects on balance or gait related outcome parameters could be detected in favour of wearing an arm sling. However, these changes did not exceed the minimal clinical important difference (MCID).
So far no strong evidence is available regarding a potential benefit of wearing an arm sling on balance and gait for stroke patients. However, further research with longer intervention periods, can be useful to determine if stroke patients in the early phases after stroke or with persistent UL paresis might possibly benefit from wearing an arm sling.