Generally, neuroplasticity-based rehabilitation utilizes task specific training and mass practice to drive plasticity processes and brain reorganization to restore behavior. However, afferent somatosensory information is not only crucial for tactile and haptic but also for motor performance. Conceivably, impaired sensory abilities further complicate motor function recovery. Therefore, the development of additional and alternative approaches that could supplement, enhance, or even replace conventional training procedures would be advantageous.
Over many years, research at the Institute for Neuroinformatics at the Ruhr University Bochum, a highly-reputed German university, explores the potentials and efficacy of passive sensory stimulation approaches as an alternative means to directly enforce neuroplasticity mechanisms. Repetitive sensory stimulation in brain injury patients over weeks or longer improves persistently tactile perception and sensorimotor behavior.
Sensory stimulation drives plastic processes in the brain areas activated by the stimulation. Because rehabilitation is based on such plastic processes, sensory stimulation allows targeted modification of brain processes and thus alteration of human behavior.
Previous studies have shown that sensory stimulation in fact induces reorganization in and around those brain areas that became dysfunctional by stroke or other brain injuries. This reorganization will facilitate reactivation of cortical tissue that has preserved some functionality. The resulting remodeling of cortical circuits is then assumed to mediate behavioral recovery.
From a medical point of view, the persistence of beneficial effects, the ease of application and the broad range of behavioral improvements make sensory stimulation a prime candidate for intervention and rehabilitation in brain injury patients.
Delineation from peripheral stimulation methods.
A variety of different forms of so-called TENS or EMS procedures are in use to support muscular functions to improve motor behavior or to treat chronic pain. All these approaches have in common that they target periphery such as skin or skeletal muscles. In contrast, tip-stimulation with tipstim® employs sensory stimulation as a means to directly interfere with brain activity and local neuroplasticity mechanisms. In this sense, sensory stimulation is a vehicle to target directly brain processes for a locally specific induction of plastic reorganization.
The tip-stimulation using tipstim® is a joint project of the Institute of Neuroinformatics (Neural Plasticity Lab) at the Ruhr University Bochum and the Department of Neurology, BG-Kliniken Bergmannsheil at the Ruhr-University with the companies Haynl Elektronik GmbH and BOSANA Medizintechnik GmbH.