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This article is the author's final published version in Trials, Volume 23, Issue 1, June 2022, Article number 523.

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BACKGROUND: Various priming techniques to enhance neuroplasticity have been examined in stroke rehabilitation research. Most priming techniques are costly and approved only for research. Here, we describe a priming technique that is cost-effective and has potential to significantly change clinical practice. Bilateral motor priming uses the Exsurgo priming device (Exsurgo Rehabilitation, Auckland, NZ) so that the less affected limb drives the more affected limb in bilateral symmetrical wrist flexion and extension. The aim of this study is to determine the effects of a 5-week protocol of bilateral motor priming in combination with task-specific training on motor impairment of the affected limb, bimanual motor function, and interhemispheric inhibition in moderate to severely impaired people with stroke.

METHODS: Seventy-six participants will be randomized to receive either 15, 2-h sessions, 3 times per week for 5 weeks (30 h of intervention) of bilateral motor priming and task-specific training (experimental group) or the same dose of control priming plus the task-specific training protocol. The experimental group performs bilateral symmetrical arm movements via the Exsurgo priming device which allows both wrists to move in rhythmic, symmetrical wrist flexion and extension for 15 min. The goal is one cycle (wrist flexion and wrist extension) per second. The control priming group receives transcutaneous electrical stimulation below sensory threshold for 15 min prior to the same 45 min of task-specific training. Outcome measures are collected at pre-intervention, post-intervention, and follow-up (8 weeks post-intervention). The primary outcome measure is the Fugl-Meyer Test of Upper Extremity Function. The secondary outcome is the Chedoke Arm and Hand Activity Index-Nine, an assessment of bimanual functional tasks.

DISCUSSION: To date, there are only 6 studies documenting the efficacy of priming using bilateral movements, 4 of which are pilot or feasibility studies. This is the first large-scale clinical trial of bilateral priming plus task-specific training. We have previously completed a feasibility intervention study of bilateral motor priming plus task-specific training and have considerable experience using this protocol.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT03517657 . Retrospectively registered on May 7, 2018.

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