The potential for non-invasive brain stimulation to improve function after amputation

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Journal Article
Disability and Rehabilitation, 2016, 38 (15), pp. 1521 - 1532
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© 2015 Taylor & Francis. Purpose: Lower limb amputee rehabilitation has traditionally focussed on restoration of gait and balance through use of prosthetic limbs and mobility aids. Despite these efforts, some amputees continue to experience difficulties with mastering prosthetic mobility. Emerging techniques in rehabilitation, such as non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS), may be an appropriate tool to enhance prosthetic rehabilitation outcomes by promoting "normal" brain reorganisation and function. The purpose of this review is to highlight the potential of NIBS to improve functional outcomes for lower limb amputees. Methods: To demonstrate the rationale for applying NIBS to amputees, this study will first review literature regarding human motor control of gait, followed by neurophysiological reorganisation of the motor system after amputation and the relationship between brain reorganisation and gait function. We will conclude by reviewing literature demonstrating application of NIBS to lower limb muscle representations and evidence supportive of subsequent functional improvements. Results: Imaging, brain stimulation and behavioural evidence indicate that the cortex contributes to locomotion in humans. Following amputation both hemispheres reorganise with evidence suggesting brain reorganisation is related to functional outcomes in amputees. Previous studies indicate that brain stimulation techniques can be used to selectively promote neuroplasticity of lower limb cortical representations with improvements in function.Conclusions: We suggest NIBS has the potential to transform lower limb amputee rehabilitation and should be further investigated.Implications for RehabilitationDespite extensive rehabilitation some amputees continue to experience difficulty with prosthetic mobilityBrain reorganisation following amputation has been related to functional outcomes and may be an appropriate target for novel interventionsNon-invasive brain stimulation is a promising tool which has potential to improve functional outcomes for lower limb amputees.
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