Harnessing the Power of Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy for arm and hand Rehab and Neurorehabilitation

Hello and welcome to our blog, where we seek to shed light on various techniques, therapies, and strategies involved in neurorehabilitation. Today, we’d like to introduce you to a powerful approach that has repeatedly shown remarkable results for individuals recovering from conditions that have affected their upper limb function, and a therapy we love to do and often use with our clients! This approach is called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy or CIMT.

What is Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy?

In simple terms, CIMT is a form of rehabilitation therapy designed to improve the functional use of a limb affected by conditions like stroke, brain injury, or certain neurological disorders. It’s especially beneficial for those who have developed what we call “learned non-use”—a phenomenon where the person’s brain “forgets” to use the affected limb because they have been relying on their unaffected limb.

So, how does CIMT work?

Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy, or CIMT, may seem to be a straightforward technique based on its name, suggesting that it merely involves constraining or restricting the use of the unaffected limb. However, CIMT is, in fact, a multidimensional approach that goes far beyond simple constraint—it encompasses a wide array of therapeutic strategies designed to encourage improved function of an affected limb, such as the upper limb in patients with neurological conditions or post-stroke.

CIMT’s core lies in its therapeutic trifecta: restraint, shaping, and behavioural transformation.

  1. Restraint: While the restraining or ‘constraining’ of the unaffected limb, typically with a mitt or sling, is part of CIMT, it’s more of a springboard. This restraint acts as a catalyst, nudging the patient to use the affected limb more frequently, fostering its increased use in daily activities.
  2. Shaping: This technique is the heart of CIMT. Shaping involves breaking down a complex task into simpler components and progressively increasing the difficulty as the patient’s skill improves. It’s akin to providing the ‘just right challenge’—not too easy to be unstimulating, not too hard to be discouraging. This step-wise approach to task difficulty aids in keeping the patient engaged and motivated while pushing the boundaries of their capabilities.
  3. Behavioural Transformation: CIMT isn’t just about physical rehabilitation—it’s also about changing behaviours and mindsets. By facilitating the use of the affected limb in a variety of tasks, CIMT helps to unlearn ‘learned non-use’, a common phenomenon where the brain ‘forgets’ to use the affected limb due to over-reliance on the unaffected one. CIMT, through consistent and repetitive use of the affected limb, promotes new, healthier habits that reintegrate the affected limb into everyday tasks and activities.

In essence, CIMT is an integrated therapeutic approach designed to foster improvement and regain lost function. It’s a marriage of neurophysiological principles with psychology, tailored to each patient’s unique abilities and needs, and ultimately aimed at enhancing their quality of life.

The Science Behind CIMT

CIMT is grounded in neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to experiences. After an injury or a stroke, the brain’s neural connections can be damaged. However, with repeated and focused use, the affected limb can regain its function by forging new neural pathways—a process known as “reorganization”.

In one study, after two weeks of intensive CIMT, patients demonstrated significant improvements in the use of their affected arm and reported a better quality of life. The changes observed were not just physical but also visible on brain imaging, illustrating how CIMT can lead to actual structural changes in the brain.

Who Can Benefit from CIMT?

Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy can be beneficial for individuals who have experienced a stroke or other brain injury resulting in partial paralysis or decreased function in one upper limb. It’s also used in paediatric cases, assisting children with conditions like cerebral palsy to improve their functional use of an affected limb.

The ideal candidate for CIMT is someone who has some movement in the affected limb, even if minimal, as this therapy works by amplifying existing capabilities through focused and repetitive use.

The CIMT Process

Implementing CIMT generally involves an intensive, structured program which may last for several weeks. Each day, the patient may spend several hours performing specific tasks with the affected limb while the unaffected one is restrained.

The tasks assigned are personalized according to the patient’s individual abilities and needs. They are usually simple at the beginning, such as picking up and moving objects, and gradually become more complex and similar to real-life activities, such as preparing a meal or getting dressed.

Moreover, the therapy incorporates a technique called “shaping”, which involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps and gradually increasing the difficulty as the patient’s skill improves.


At first glance, Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy might sound counterintuitive—why would you want to limit your good arm to help the one that’s struggling? However, the science, research, and most importantly, patient outcomes, affirm CIMT’s effectiveness.

Rehabilitation journeys are highly individual, and it’s crucial to find the right combination of therapies that work best for you or your loved one. If you think CIMT might be an appropriate part of that mix, we encourage you to speak with your occupational therapist or contact us directly. We’re here to support you on your path towards recovery and improved function.

Remember, every journey begins with a single step. Or in the case of CIMT, a single, intentional movement.