People paralyzed by stroke temporarily regained the use of their hands after weeks of brain stimulation and physical therapy, according to new research. Stroke patients -- who often struggle to unfurl their hand rather than to crook it -- increased their range of motion for at least two weeks after completing the therapy.
Details of the new approach were presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in adults worldwide. Only a few people ever recover completely, and many have limited abilities for years. One of the results of stroke is often abnormally increased muscle tension in addition to weakness or paralysis in one side of the body. This study could offer disabled individuals a new hybrid form of rehab.
"Our results show a novel rehabilitative approach that takes advantage of the brain's ability to change and acquire new motor skills by practicing to overcome abnormal muscle tension," said lead author Satoko Koganemaru, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan.
Nine individuals with moderate-to-severe paralysis underwent the dual treatment for six weeks. Koganemaru and her colleagues applied high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation -- a noninvasive method sometimes used to treat depression -- over the damaged side of the brain, specifically in the area associated with motor control. Over the same period of time, the participants practiced contracting the muscles for extension of their fingers and wrists. At the end of the trial, the volunteers could grip and pinch objects.
"The improvements suggest that the brain adapts through practice and brain stimulation, making for better control of muscles," Koganemaru said. "This method could be a powerful approach for people with stroke and might be applied to other movement disorders."
Research was supported by the Strategic Research Program for Brain Sciences of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and by a grant for Longevity Sciences from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
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