Sensory Reeducation Exercises: Effective or Not?

Sensory Reeducation Exercises

Sensory reeducation exercises are a vital aspect of the rehabilitation process following an injury or condition where nerves have been damaged such as stroke or brain injury.

Sensory reeducation exercises consist of stimulating different senses including tactile, olfactory, auditory, visual, orofacial, and proprioception. Use of this rehabilitative approach is very common after nerve injuries (especially of the hand) where an impairment has occurred affecting the way the brain interprets senses. Symptoms of sensory impairment can manifest with numbness, tingling, inability to feel heat or cold, or hypersensitivity.

What is Sensory Reeducation?

Sensory reeducation is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy technique. It is also referred to as “sensory retraining”. These techniques have a meaningful impact on the quality of life in patients with nerve injuries following a stroke or other brain injuries as well as patients with foot and ankle neuropathies (i.e. diabetic). In the case of lower extremity sensory impairment, the training is proven to reduce falls and fall-related injuries as well as correct balance.

Research supports the benefits of sensory reeducation exercises to produce plastic changes in the somatosensory cortex to compensate some of the impairments and improve outcomes. Studies on animals have shown that sensory reeducation alters the central neural representation of the involved area and alters the response to tactile stimulation after induced brain damage.

Sensory reeducation is a simple, inexpensive, non-invasive exercise program that can teach a patient to “relearn” the sensation and also ignore the unpleasant symptomatology after injury or surgery. There are very minimal contraindications and minimal side effects (if any) with the training. So, it is far better to consider this treatment option as an alternative to addictive medications.

Is Sensory Training Effective? The effectiveness of sensory reeducation depends on several factors:

  • age
  • learning capacity
  • cognitive skills
  • motivation
  • reinforcement

In addition, the results from sensory reeducation will depend on incorporating meaningful and graded stimuli, active participation, and accurate feedback from a therapist. Research suggests that performing sensory reeducation exercises for a short period of time, 4 to 6 times per day on a daily basis, is more effective than a longer, less frequent protocol.

When to Start Sensory Reeducation Exercises?

Studies suggest that sensory reeducation training should start “early”, although there is no exact timeline on how early it should start. Rather, there is evidence that a lower response and fewer results occur with delayed training. The idea is to train and retrain the affected senses as early as possible. Therefore, it is better to start the training soon after an injury or surgery when the patient is stable enough to receive therapy.

Are The Results Long-Lasting?

Studies suggest the effects of sensory training persists long after completion of the exercise protocol. Patients who receive sensory reeducation report minimal to no altered sensation after nerve damage or repair, with several studies documenting the continued results as long as two years after surgery.

Do You Recommend Sensory Training?

Are you a therapist who provides sensory reeducation exercises to your patients? If so, tell us about your experience in the Comments section below. Has the training been effective and acheived long-lasting results?

This article was written by Bijal Shah, Clinical Educator

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