To determine the effectiveness of the Bobath concept at reducing upper limb impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions after stroke.Electronic databases were searched to identify relevant trials published between 1966 and 2003. Two reviewers independently assessed articles for the following inclusion criteria: population of adults with upper limb disability after stroke; stated use of the Bobath concept aimed at improving upper limb disability in isolation from other approaches; outcomes reflecting changes in upper limb impairment, activity limitation or participation restriction.Of the 688 articles initially identified, eight met the inclusion criteria. Five were randomized controlled trials, one used a single-group crossover design and two were single-case design studies. Five studies measured impairments including shoulder pain, tone, muscle strength and motor control. The Bobath concept was found to reduce shoulder pain better than cryotherapy, and to reduce tone compared to no intervention and compared to proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). However, no difference was detected for changes in tone between the Bobath concept and a functional approach. Differences did not reach significance for measures of muscle strength and motor control. Six studies measured activity limitations, none of these found the Bobath concept was superior to other therapy approaches. Two studies measured changes in participation restriction and both found equivocal results.Comparisons of the Bobath concept with other approaches do not demonstrate superiority of one approach over the other at improving upper limb impairment, activity or participation. However, study limitations relating to methodological quality, the outcome measures used and contextual factors investigated limit the ability to draw conclusions. Future research should use sensitive upper limb measures, trained Bobath therapists and homogeneous samples to identify the influence of patient factors on the response to therapy approaches.