Electrical Brain Stimulation For Stroke Victims Could Improve Hand And Arm Movement

'The worst part was that my head itched afterwards!'

Sending an electric current to the brain could help stroke victims recover, new research has found.

Scientists placed electrodes on the scalps of stroke patients and passed a low contrast current through a particular area of the brain, where damage had occurred.

According to one of the study's participants, the treatment felt "like a mild tingle".

Stroke patients responded well to the electrical current and some were better able to use their hands and arms to lift, reach and grasp objects afterwards.

The treatment improved hand and arm function in patients.
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The treatment improved hand and arm function in patients.

The research team from University of Oxford studied a group of 24 volunteers who had all had a stroke and experienced hand and arm problems as a result.

The volunteers were split into two groups and given nine days of motor training.

The first group had positive electrical currents applied to their brains, while the other group acted as a control group - they were fitted with electrodes but did not receive a current.

Before and after motor training, volunteers' motor skills were assessed to see if they had responded well to the treatment.

Three months after training, the group that had received the electric current had improved more than those in the control group.


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Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg, from Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: "This showed that the patients who had received tDCS [the electric current] were better able to use their hands and arms for movements such as lifting, reaching and grasping objects."

MRI scans also showed participants who had the treatment experienced more activity in the relevant brain areas than the control group.

One of the volunteers involved in the study, Jan, said the training was "exhausting" but "huge fun".

Jan said: "Even after the first session I felt as if I could do more, even though I was knackered. That made me go back every day, and I found it easier and easier.

"[The stimulation] didn't hurt - more like a mild tingle or a static electric shock right on the top of my head. The worst part was that my head itched afterwards!"

She added: "I have definitely improved and benefited. People who haven't seen me say 'wow, you can move better now'. It definitely helped.

"I'm just sorry I can't continue with it. It was so nice to meet a team who had such positive attitudes and who told me it was not too late to improve."

Researchers said there's positive evidence for the use of electrical currents to aid stroke recovery, but added that larger studies would be needed.

The study was published in the journal Science Immunology.