Healthy people take for granted simple everyday tasks such as lifting cup or dripping a fork and a knife. For those with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS), these simple movements are a challenge. For these patients, lifting and manipulation these ordinary objects lead actually to tight gripping and excessive force, which in turn results in fatigue and even pain.
Physical therapists at the University of Chicago in Illinois report that a simple gentle touch can help MS patients regain control and coordination. The technique entails applying a gentle touch of a finger using the unaffected hand on the affected hand.
The study looked at eight adults with MS and compared them to eight without the disease. The participants were matched in terms of gender-matched and comparable in terms of age.
According to Alexander Aruin, professor of physical therapy.
During the test, the participants were asked to grip and lift different objects in different ways and directions. In all the touch, the simple light finger touch helped the participants in the coordination.
The mechanism behind the effectiveness of the touch is poorly understood but the authors speculate that it might be due to “auxiliary sensory information from the contra-lateral arm”.
“When we use our second hand and touch the wrist of the target hand, available information to the central nervous system about the hand-object interaction may increase. Without the touch, the information needed to manipulate an object comes only through vision and sensory input from just the target arm and hand.”
These findings have relevant application on developing therapies for rehabilitation and training to counteract fatigue and weak muscles in people with neurological disorders, not only MS, but also Parkinson’s disease, or limb weakness due to stroke. This type of therapy has the potential to significantly improve the patients’ quality of life.