Recovering hand function has important implications for improving independence of patients with tetraplegia after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a noninvasive rehabilitation technique that has potential to improve motor function.
To investigate the effects of one session of 1 mA, 2 mA, and sham anodal tDCS (a-tDCS) in the upper extremity (hand) motor performance (grasp and lease) in patients with chronic cervical SCI.
Eleven participants with incomplete SCI were randomized to receive 20 minutes of 1 mA, 2 mA, or sham stimulation over the targeted motor cortex over three separated sessions. Hand motor performance was measured by the hand robot evaluation (kinematics) and the Box and Blocks (BB) test before and after the stimulation period.
A significant improvement on the grasp mean to peak speed ratio (GMP) was observed in the 2 mA group (pre: 0.38±0.02; post: 0.43±0.03; mean±SEM; p = 0.031). There was no statistically significant difference in BB test results, however the 2 mA intervention showed a positive trend for improvement.
A single session of 2 mA of a-tDCS showed gains in hand motor function in patients with chronic SCI that were not observed in functional clinical scales. The use of robotic kinematics showed promising results in assessing small changes in motor performance. Further studies are necessary to determine whether tDCS can translate into a long-term rehabilitative strategy for individuals with SCI.