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Individuals with chronic stroke have reduced perfusion of the paretic lower limb at rest; however, the hyperemic response to graded muscle contractions in this patient population has not been examined. This study quantified blood flow to the paretic and non-paretic lower limbs of subjects with chronic stroke after submaximal contractions of the knee extensor muscles and correlated those measures with limb function and activity. Ten subjects with chronic stroke and ten controls had blood flow through the superficial femoral artery quantified with ultrasonography before and immediately after 10 second contractions of the knee extensor muscles at 20, 40, 60, and 80% of the maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the test limb. Blood flow to the paretic and non-paretic limb of stroke subjects was significantly reduced at all load levels compared to control subjects even after normalization to lean muscle mass. Of variables measured, increased blood flow after an 80% MVC was the single best predictor of paretic limb strength, the symmetry of strength between the paretic and non-paretic limbs, coordination of the paretic limb, and physical activity. The impaired hemodynamic response to high intensity contractions was a better predictor of lower limb function than resting perfusion measures. Stroke-dependent weakness and atrophy of the paretic limb do not explain the reduced hyperemic response to muscle contraction alone as the response is similarly reduced in the non-paretic limb when compared to controls. These data may suggest a role for perfusion therapies to optimize rehabilitation post stroke.
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