An update on brain plasticity for physical therapists

Physiotherapy Practice and Research 01/2013; 34:1-8. DOI: 10.3233/PPR-2012-0009


The understanding that the human brain is capable of structural and functional change throughout life has significant implications for the future of physical therapy. Cortical plasticity impacts on many areas of physical therapy including clinical practice, research and education. Although the principles of plasticity underpin developments in neurological physical therapy, relevance to musculoskeletal physical therapy is still emerging. How will key areas of musculoskeletal physical therapy change as our understanding of plasticity advances? If cortical plasticity can be harnessed, new plasticity-based therapies, that enhance
performance in healthy individuals and improve pain and function in patient populations, have the potential to become the cornerstone of musculoskeletal physical therapy. In addition, common physical therapy techniques, such as electrical stimulation, require reconsideration of their clinical efficacy and application in light of new discoveries in neuroscience. The aim of this appraisal is to provide an update on brain plasticity for physical therapists in relation to clinical practice, research and education

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Available from: Lucy S Chipchase
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    • "Spasticity, muscle weakness, diminished dynamic stability, osteoporosis and associated physical inactivity not only make walking cost-ineffective, but also seriously hinder locomotion mechanisms, and even increase the risk of falling [1]. Gait rehabilitation in neurologically impaired individuals takes advantage of neuroplasticity, a capability of the brain to form new neuron pathways and synapses [2–5]. However, since the human brain is the most susceptible to such changes early after neurological injury and deteriorates thereafter, it is imperative to commence gait rehabilitation as soon as possible in order to maximize the chance for rehabilitation success. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: After neurological injury, gait rehabilitation typically focuses on task oriented training with many repetitions of a particular movement. Modern rehabilitation devices, including treadmills, augment gait rehabilitation. However, they typically provide gait training only in the forward direction of walking, hence the mechanisms associated with changing direction during turning are not practiced. A regular treadmill extended with the addition of rotation around the vertical axis is a simple device that may enable the practice of turning during walking. The objective of this study was to investigate to what extent pelvis and torso rotations in the transversal plane, as well as stride lengths while walking on the proposed rotating treadmill, resemble those in over ground turning. Methods: Ten neurologically and orthopedically intact subjects participated in the study. We recorded pelvis and torso rotations in the transversal plane and the stride lengths during over ground turning and while walking on a rotating treadmill in four experimental conditions of turning. The similarity between pelvis and torso rotations in over ground turning and pair-matching walking on the rotating treadmill was assessed using intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC - two-way mixed single measure model). Finally, left and right stride lengths in over ground turning as well as while walking on the rotating treadmill were compared using a paired t-test for each experimental condition. Results: An agreement analysis showed average ICC ranging between 0.9405 and 0.9806 for pelvis and torso rotation trajectories respectively, across all experimental conditions and directions of turning. The results of the paired t-tests comparing left and right stride lengths showed that the stride of the outer leg was longer than the stride of the inner leg during over ground turning as well as when walking on the rotating treadmill. In all experimental conditions these differences were statistically significant. Conclusions: In this study we found that pelvis rotation and torso rotation are similar when turning over ground as compared to walking on a rotating treadmill. Additionally, in both modes of turning, we found that the stride length of the outer leg is significantly longer than the stride length of the inner leg.
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