Computer Game Helps Stroke survivors Regain Mobility in their Arms

Computer games have become one of the world’s foremost forms of entertainment among all ages and it is estimated that more than 1.2 billion people around the world play computer games. Now a unique computer game is helping stroke survivors regain mobility and muscle function in their arms. This new gamified therapy was developed by Northwestern University medicine scientists and is called a myoelectric computer interface (MyoCl). This technology aided stroke survivors to regain proper muscle function in their arms. Results of this randomized trial that had 32 participants were published March 19, 2019 in the Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair journal.

Wearable Device Used at Home

According to Dr. Marc Slutsky, who is the associate professor of neurology and physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the game is entertaining like an 8Os-style video game. The wearable device is used at home by the patients in the study. The device is able to communicate in a wireless way with a laptop or tablet and the researchers aim to eventually have a totally wireless device.

Many Stroke Survivors Left with a Bent Elbow

It is common for many stroke survivors to have problems with muscles acting against each other in irregular ways, which is called abnormal co-activation or abnormal coupling. For this reason, many stroke survivors cannot move their arm in a forward position with a straight elbow. They often are left after a stroke with a bent elbow. This hampers them from being able to regain skills like bathing, eating or dressing themselves.

The Myoelectric Computer Interface (MyoCl)

The myoelectric computer wearable device is able to identify which muscles are coupled abnormally and retrains the muscles to move normally. The electrical muscle activity of the device called electromyogram (EMG) controls a cursor in a video game, which has been customized. The more the muscles work normally, the higher is the person’s score. For instance, the two muscles that were abnormally coupled could move the cursor in either a horizontal or vertical direction. The goal was to only move the cursor vertically or horizontally and not diagonally. This encouraged the participants to learn to decouple the abnormally coupled muscles in order to get a high score.

The Participants in the Study

The participants in the study were severely impaired in their arms and elbows and could barely move them. Some of them had suffered a stroke about six months prior to entering this study, but others had experienced strokes as much as six years earlier.

Three Groups

The participants were divided into three groups:

  1. 60 minutes of training while their arm was restrained
  2. 90 minutes of training with their arm restrained
  3. 90 minutes of training without arm restraints


After completing the wearable computer game treatment, the participants in all three groups showed significant improvement and could move the angle of their elbow about 11 degrees more than they had been able to prior to the trial. Also, spasticity decreased in all the participants. None of the participants showed any signs of bad effects.

Stroke Patients in the Hospital

Dr. Slutzky is also examining stroke patients in the hospital within a week of their stroke with this device to see if it might be beneficial. Only about 30% of stroke survivors receive stroke rehabilitation therapy after they are discharged from the hospital where they had initial stroke therapy because it may be too expensive, they are too seriously injured or they live too far away from a therapist. However, this small study may lead to an inexpensive, wearable device to be used therapeutically at home for stroke survivors that have serious impairments.

Patients can Use it Whenever they Need to

If the therapeutic benefits wear off, the patient can play this game whenever they need to whether it be every few weeks or months.

Rehabilitation Care after a Stroke

If you or your loved one are post-stroke and in need of a good rehab, the Park Crescent Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey offers excellent post-stroke care.


This study showed that this inexpensive wearable gaming device could be used to treat stroke survivors with serious impairments at home.

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