[ARTICLE] Combining transcranial direct-current stimulation with gait training in patients with neurological disorders: a systematic review – Full Text

Abstract

Background

Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is an easy-to-apply, cheap, and safe technique capable of affecting cortical brain activity. However, its effectiveness has not been proven for many clinical applications.

Objective

The aim of this systematic review was to determine whether the effect of different strategies for gait training in patients with neurological disorders can be enhanced by the combined application of tDCS compared to sham stimulation. Additionally, we attempted to record and analyze tDCS parameters to optimize its efficacy.

Methods

A search in Pubmed, PEDro, and Cochrane databases was performed to find randomized clinical trials that combined tDCS with gait training. A chronological filter from 2010 to 2018 was applied and only studies with variables that quantified the gait function were included.

Results

A total of 274 studies were found, of which 25 met the inclusion criteria. Of them, 17 were rejected based on exclusion criteria. Finally, 8 trials were evaluated that included 91 subjects with stroke, 57 suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and 39 with spinal cord injury. Four of the eight assessed studies did not report improved outcomes for any of its variables compared to the placebo treatment.

Conclusions

There are no conclusive results that confirm that tDCS can enhance the effect of the different strategies for gait training. Further research for specific pathologies, with larger sample sizes and adequate follow-up periods, are required to optimize the existing protocols for applying tDCS.

Introduction

Difficulty to walk is a key feature of neurological disorders [1], so much so that recovering and/or maintaining the patient’s walking ability has become one of the main aims of all neurorehabilitation programs [2]. Additionally, the loss of this ability is one of the most significant factors negatively impacting on the social and professional reintegration of neurological patients [3].

Strategies for gait rehabilitation traditionally focus on improving the residual ability to walk and compensation strategies. Over the last years, a new therapeutic paradigm has been established based on promoting neuroplasticity and motor learning, which has led to the development of different therapies employing treadmills and partial body-weight support, as well as robotic-assisted gait training [4]. Nevertheless, these new paradigms have not demonstrated superior results when compared to traditional therapies [5,6,7], and therefore recent studies advise combining therapies to enhance their therapeutic effect via greater activation of neuroplastic mechanisms [8].

Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is an intervention for brain neuromodulation consisting of applying constant weak electric currents on the patient’s scalp in order to stimulate specific brain areas. The application of the anode (positive electrode) to the primary motor cortex causes an increase in neuron excitability whereas stimulation with the cathode (negative electrode) causes it to decrease [9].

The effectiveness of tDCS has been proven for treating certain pathologies such as depression, addictions, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain [10]. Also, tDCS has shown to improve precision and motor learning [11] in healthy volunteers. Improvements in the functionality of upper limbs and fine motor skills of the hand with paresis have been observed in patients with stroke using tDCS, although the results were somewhat controversial [1213]. Similarly, a Cochrane review on the effectiveness of tDCS in treating Parkinson’s disease highlights the great potential of the technique to improve motor skills, but the significance level of the evidence was not enough to clearly recommend it [14]. In terms of gait rehabilitation, current studies are scarce and controversial [10].

Furthermore, tDCS is useful not only as a therapy by itself but also in combination with other rehabilitation strategies to increase their therapeutic potential; in these cases, the subjects’ basal activity and the need for combining the stimulation with the behavior to be enhanced have been highlighted. Several studies have combined tDCS with different modalities of therapeutic exercising, such as aerobic exercise to increase the hypoalgesic effect in patients with fibromyalgia [15] or muscle strengthening to increase functionality in patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis [16]. Along these lines, various studies have combined tDCS with gait training in patients with neurological disorders, obtaining rather disparate outcomes [17,18,19,20]. As a result, the main aim of this systematic review was to determine whether the application of tDCS can enhance the effectiveness of other treatment strategies for gait training. Additionally, as a secondary objective, we attempted to record and identify the optimal parameters of the applied current since they are key factors for its effectiveness. […]

 

Continue —>  Combining transcranial direct-current stimulation with gait training in patients with neurological disorders: a systematic review | Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation | Full Text

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