CAPTION: The extra vibratory stimulus increases activity in the brain during grip tasks, which in turn improves a patient’s hand function after therapy has concluded, researchers suggest. (Credit: MUSC Health)

When post-stroke survivors wear a wireless wrist band designed to send vibrations through the arm during occupational therapy, they get more value out of their sessions and have improved motor function, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) suggest.

The extra stimulus increases activity in the brain during grip tasks, which in turn improves a patient’s hand function after therapy has concluded, they add, in their study published in OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health.

The main outcomes in the aftermath of a stroke are issues with mobility and movement, Na Jin Seo, PhD, a professor in the College of Health Professions at MUSC and the study’s primary investigator. In 65% of stroke cases, those issues arise in the use of a patient’s arms, which led her to investigate using a wrist device as a way to improve current treatment methods, a media release from MUSC explains.

TheraBracelet Effects

Working alongside Amanda Vatinno, PhD, first author on the paper and a research assistant at MUSC at the time, Seo assessed the effectiveness of a wearable device called a TheraBracelet on patients over the course of a 6-week therapy session.

It’s easy to take the use of your limbs for granted, Vatinno says. She even catches herself doing it sometimes.

“But tasks that seem simple can become so difficult following a stroke,” she adds. “I see people struggling to open a jar or take a drink.”

Devices like the TheraBracelet can enhance treatment and provide longer-lasting effects, she advises. The device works by sending imperceptible vibrations through a person’s arm and up to their brain while they perform everyday tasks. The stimulus primes the sensory cortex in the brain and prepares it for the upcoming movement. Increasing the brain’s activity like this helps with motor output and thus helps patients move their arms more freely and effectively.

The activities they perform with patients could be as basic as brushing their teeth or zipping a jacket, both of which are regularly practiced in occupational therapy without wearable technology assistance. Therapists can also assist patients with practicing more social or sports-driven activities depending on what is important to that patient, Vatinno notes.

“One participant was an avid golfer,” Vatinno says. “So we practiced golf swings in therapy while wearing the bracelet.”

Previous studies have suggested that sensory stimulus prior to a therapy session can improve outcomes, but those methods had patients remain still for 2 hours while receiving the stimulus before practicing any movements. That sedentary time was necessary for the treatment plan, and the effects diminished once the stimulation was removed.

Seo and Vatinno’s study was different, the release continues.

“What sets it apart from traditional therapy is adding that particular stimulation,” according to Vatinno. “It’s wireless and can be done during the therapy itself.”

Clinical Applications

By using the stimulation simultaneously and removing the need for patients to remain sedentary for so long to achieve results, Seo hopes to apply it more easily to clinical practice. Her method has yielded longer-lasting results for stroke survivors, and she hopes to continue to assess its effectiveness.

She will need to determine if a time limit for treatment is necessary so patients don’t become desensitized to it, and she’d like more information on how long the treatment lasts. Ultimately, she believes that better treatments will help people regain their independence and improve their quality of life.

[Source(s): Medical University of South Carolina, MedicalXpress]

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