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Light Touch Helps Grip of MS Patients

Study shows ways to optimize hand movements

FRIDAY, Oct. 23, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Using a gentle touch may help make it easier for people with multiple sclerosis to pick up and hold objects, a new study suggests.

People with MS use excessive force when lifting objects, which can lead to fatigue and make everyday tasks difficult, physical therapists from the University of Illinois at Chicago explained in a school news release.

Using the finger of the opposite hand to apply a gentle touch to the affected hand may help improve control and coordination, they stated.

"We studied how this light-touch application changes the way people apply force to an object they want to grip. In each case, the grip force required to lift an object decreased," study author Alexander Aruin, a professor of physical therapy, said in the news release.

The study included eight adults with MS who were asked to grip and lift a variety of objects and move them in several different ways, directions and velocities. When they used the gentle finger touch, the force of their grip was reduced and the task became easier.

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.

"We look forward to developing training and rehabilitation procedures on how to use this. We know that MS patients are prone to fatigue and muscle weakness. This finding may enable them to perform daily activities more independently to improve their quality of life," Aruin said.

It's not clear why the finger touch is helpful, but Aruin offered a possible explanation.

"It could be due to auxiliary sensory information from the contralateral arm," he said. "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."

The researchers plan to test the finger-touch method on people with other neurological and muscular diseases.

More information

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has more about promoting function, mobility and independence.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Chicago, news release, Oct. 14, 2009
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