New therapy helps patients retrain their muscles after brain damage

Whether it's the aftermath of a stroke, surgery, or a bad accident, retraining the muscles to move again is a long and frustrating process.

But now, new therapies are helping three women jumpstart their brains and their lives.

Five years ago, surgeons removed a tumor from Linda Beougher's brain.

She was left with severe nerve damage and lost part of herself.

"You want to smile, but your face doesn't always do what you want to do," Linda explains.

Therapists are using patterned electrical neuromuscular stimulation -- or PENS -- on Linda's neck. The quick pulses remind her facial muscles how to work.

"Once you kind of kick into it, and say, 'Okay, remember, this is the way we need to work,' then it will start doing it more and more and more," explains Jodi S. Barth, PT, a physical therapist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Rockville, Maryland.

"One day soon, I'll see my smile again," Linda says confidently.

The same technology is also helping 18-year-old Margo Serarols learn how to walk again.

"Everything about me just kind of sort of changed," she admits.

Margo had a stroke during her sleep. She spent weeks in a coma and five months in the hospital.

With the pads on her legs, the electrical currents simulate the way her leg muscles typically interact with each other.

"I see myself walking more normally," she reveals.

Normal is something Lousea Foster strives for in every session. A stroke paralyzed her right side.

Now she is using a robotic brace to get her arm function back.

"The robot that's embedded in that brace helps the patient move the arm," explains Stephen Page, PhD, an associate professor of rehabilitation at the University of Cincinnati.

Progress is slow, but these women see potential.

They are hoping that a combination of technology and determination will get them moving again.

The PENS therapies are used to help people with muscle tears, osteoarthritis, back and joint pain, neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and pinched nerves.

REPORT #1585


Facial palsy, or Bell's palsy, is a paralysis of the facial nerve, resulting in the inability to control facial muscles.

Several conditions can cause facial paralysis, including brain tumors, stroke and even Lyme disease. Doctors believe an inflammatory condition leads to swelling of the facial nerve. The nerve travels through the skull in a narrow bone canal beneath the ear. Nerve swelling and compression in the bone canal can lead to nerve inhibition, damage or death.

One of the pitfalls of having facial paralysis is losing the ability to control your face and sleep normally at night with both of your eyes closed. Facial palsy patients often have abnormal looking features, and sometimes, they can't smile at all. That can be damaging to a patient's self-image.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are diagnosed with facial palsy each year.


The Patterned Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulation (PENS) device is helping patients with facial paralysis, muscle tears, osteoarthritis, back and joint pain, neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome and pinched nerves.

The PENS device is used in combination with other therapies to help patients regain their normal function. The device is placed on the back of the neck or anywhere where an abnormal muscle has electrical activity running through it. In an abnormal muscle, the balance is disturbed.

The PENS device helps the muscle regain that balance. A therapist hooks up wires from the PENS device box directly to the facial muscles or the muscles in the body requiring electrical stimulation.

"For a person who has facial palsy, the muscle balance is returned. Facial palsy wasn't something that we thought about using the device with at first, but since we've been using it, some of our patients have been very pleased with their progress," Jodi Barth, a physical therapist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital's Olney and Montrose Outpatient Centers, told Ivanhoe.

The device is now playing a role in therapy sessions for many different conditions. PENS replicates the normal nerve and muscle firing order that a person had before being injured or diseased. It reminds the muscles and nerves how they're supposed to work together, while managing pain and strengthening muscles.

For More Information:

Jodi Barth, PT
National Rehabilitation Hospital, Montrose Center
Rockville, MD
(301) 984-6594

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