Brain Makeover

Practice makes perfect–and it rewires the brain, as many studies have shown. But sometimes hours of practice can take these brain changes too far, as happens in musician’s dystonia, when the boundaries between muscles blur in the brain and precise movements are no longer possible. In pianists, for example, the fingers might clutch inward involuntarily every time they attempt to strike a key. This condition takes years to develop, but new research suggests a treatment that takes only 15 minutes can reorganize the brain and allow musicians to play again.

A team led by Karin Rosenkranz of University College London applied vibrations to individual hand muscles in pianists with dystonia, giving each muscle several rounds of a two-second vibration followed by a two-second rest. The 15-minute protocol immediately improved playing to match that of pianists without dystonia.

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