Magnetic stimulation may improve stroke recovery

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Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment improved motor function in a small group of people. For the stimulation, an insulated wire coil is placed on the scalp, and an electrical current is passed through the coil, creating a magnetic pulse that stimulates the cortex.

The study involved 14 people, ages 35 to 63, eight of whom were relearning to use their affected hands after recent strokes, and six of whom had never had a stroke. The stroke patients received three sessions of magnetic stimulation to the unaffected side of the brain using different parameters, including sham (mock) stimulation meant to produce a placebo effect. The six healthy participants were tested with the same tests to evaluate the learning effect associated with repeated testing.

The stroke patients improved significantly on some of the tests that evaluated the motor function of the affected hands after the stroke, but did not improve following sham stimulation. There was also no improvement in the healthy volunteers following repeated testing.

“These results are exciting because magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive, painless therapy that can be done while patients are awake,” said study author Felipe Fregni, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.