University of São Paulo: Electrical brain stimulation may help athletes

Non-invasive brain stimulation, a process also known as neuromodulation, can increase sports performance and aid in the recovery of athletes. In an interview with Jornal da USP in Ar 1st Edition , Alexandre Moreira, professor at the School of Physical Education and Sport (EEFE) at USP and coordinator of NeuroSportsLab, explains the results of research in the area and comments on the potential of the technique, original to psychiatry, for the sport.

The method uses electrodes, positioned on the scalp, to excite or facilitate the activity of neurons. This process is painless — “The electrical charge is very low voltage, generally no more than 2 milliamps,” says Moreira. “Subjects feel at most an itch, a very slight tingling in the first few minutes of stimulation.”

After sessions of 10 or 20 minutes, neuromodulation has a positive impact on athletes’ performance. A study published in 2015 reported a 4% increase in the performance of cyclists after treatment with the technique, says the professor. The low percentage of improvement may seem discouraging, but Moreira assures its importance: “Among high-performance athletes, 4% can generate a substantial difference in the ranking”.

Technique presents several possibilities of application
The professor comments that the athletes’ perception of effort is also altered by brain stimulation. The analyzed cyclists reported less fatigue than usual after practicing the sport, a fact that indicates the effectiveness of the technique in the management of fatigue.

Moreira discloses that today NeuroSportsLab, a pioneering research institution in the field of neuromodulation in Brazil, seeks to test the efficiency of the resource in the rehabilitation of injured athletes. So far, studies carried out with soccer athletes have shown favorable results. Such a brain-centered recovery strategy is novel, as treatments typically used focused on peripheral areas of the body.

Finally, the professor reinforces the low cost and ease of application of neuromodulation in athletes, elements that make the study of the area even more promising. “We drink from the fountain of psychiatry and we are taking that to sport. In 2021, we contributed to an important book on the subject, in a chapter related to sports performance and the recovery process”, concludes Moreira.

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