Effect of Neurofeedback Facilitation on Poststroke Gait and Balance Recovery: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Objective

To test the hypothesis that supplementary motor area (SMA) facilitation with functional near-infrared spectroscopy–mediated neurofeedback (fNIRS-NFB) augments poststroke gait and balance recovery, we conducted a 2-center, double-blind, randomized controlled trial involving 54 Japanese patients using the 3-meter Timed Up and Go (TUG) test.

Methods

Patients with subcortical stroke-induced mild to moderate gait disturbance more than 12 weeks from onset underwent 6 sessions of SMA neurofeedback facilitation during gait- and balance-related motor imagery using fNIRS-NFB. Participants were randomly allocated to intervention (28 patients) or placebo (sham: 26 patients). In the intervention group, the fNIRS signal contained participants’ cortical activation information. The primary outcome was TUG improvement 4 weeks postintervention.

Results

The intervention group showed greater improvement in the TUG test (12.84 ± 15.07 seconds, 95% confidence interval 7.00–18.68) than the sham group (5.51 ± 7.64 seconds, 95% confidence interval 2.43–8.60; group difference 7.33 seconds, 95% CI 0.83–13.83; p = 0.028), even after adjusting for covariates (group x time interaction; F1.23,61.69 = 4.50, p = 0.030, partial 2 = 0.083). Only the intervention group showed significantly increased imagery-related SMA activation and enhancement of resting-state connectivity between SMA and ventrolateral premotor area. Adverse effects associated with fNIRS-mediated neurofeedback intervention were absent.

Conclusion

SMA facilitation during motor imagery using fNIRS neurofeedback may augment poststroke gait and balance recovery by modulating the SMA and its related network.

Classification of Evidence

This study provides Class III evidence that for patients with gait disturbance from subcortical stroke, SMA neurofeedback facilitation improves TUG time (UMIN000010723 at UMIN-CTR; umin.ac.jp/english/).

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