Objective. The goal of this study is to understand how shoulder abduction loading affects volitional hand opening and grasping forces in individuals with moderate to severe chronic hemiparetic stroke. Methods. Thirty-six individuals (stroke, 26; control, 10) were recruited for this study. Each participant was instructed to perform maximal hand opening and grasping forces while the arm was either fully supported or lifted with a weight equal to 25% or 50% of the participant’s maximal shoulder abduction torque. Hand pentagon area, defined as the area formed by the tips of thumb and fingers, was calculated during hand opening. Forces were recorded during grasping.
Results. In individuals with moderate stroke, increasing shoulder abduction loading reduced the ability to maximally open the hand. In individuals with severe stroke, who were not able to open the hand, grasping forces were generated and increased with shoulder abduction loading. Stroke individuals also showed a reduced ability to control volitional grasping forces due to the enhanced expression of flexion synergy.
Conclusions. Shoulder abduction loading reduced the ability to volitionally open the hand and control grasping forces after stroke. Neural mechanisms and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.