Could a Tongue Stimulator Help to Improve Your Walking?

Could a Tongue Stimulator Help to Improve Your Walking?
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The idea doesn’t seem very appealing to me, but a company is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a product that might help people with MS walk better by mildly stimulating the tongue.

The portable neuromodulation stimulator (PoNS) is a flat device about half the size of a credit card, with electrodes on the end. Placed on the tongue, the stimulator sends a mild electrical current through the tongue as a pathway to the brainstem. The hope is that the electrical signals will increase the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to rewire itself to bypass damaged nerves and recreate connections by using others.

PoNS isn’t used all the time or when a patient is alone. Rather, the treatment incorporates 20 minutes of brain stimulation into physical or occupational therapy, along with cognitive exercises. It’s hoped that the combination of therapy and stimulation will improve balance and gait in people with multiple sclerosis.

MS is a “disease with a significant unmet medical need, particularly in addressing associated gait dysfunction,” said Philippe Deschamps, CEO of Helius Medical Technologies, the company that makes the device. Deschamps hopes the PoNS unit will give people with MS “a non-drug, non-implantable treatment that has the potential to significantly improve their ability to walk.”

Not a done deal

The company’s FDA application is the first of a two-step process. If the FDA determines the product to be safe and effective, it will assign a risk classification and approve PoNS for sale in the U.S. The Canadian government already has cleared the PoNS device for short-term treatment in that country. 

Risk versus benefit

I’ve used a different type of electrical stimulation for my MS, a Bioness L300 Go. This device stimulates a nerve in my leg to help raise my left foot, which drags when I walk. I’ve had mixed results, and the stimulation can be uncomfortable.

I haven’t found information about how patients in clinical trials of the PoNS device have reacted to electrical stimulation of their tongue. But knowing how sensitive my tongue is when I accidentally bite it, I think I’d have a little trepidation before using this device. On the other hand, if it would help my balance and gait, I might try it.

PoNS could be one more risk-benefit decision for people with MS. What would you do if offered this new treatment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Also, you’re invited to visit my personal blog at: www.themswire.com.

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 Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.

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19 comments

  1. Debbie O'Rourke says:

    I have read and tried following Helius Medical as much as I can. I would love the opportunity to trial the PoNS device. I have foot drop through MS. I feel this is a bit of hope that I’m clinging on to.
    Debbie O’Rourke. Dublin, Ireland.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Susie,

      I think that this device, if approved, will be something that a medical professional uses in conjunction with therapy. It wouldn’t be something that you can go out and buy.

      Ed

  2. David says:

    Hi,
    I reviewed the trials for MS that Helios did and, in my opinion, are weak and don’t show significant improvement, in anything, for MS specifically.

    Am I missing something?

  3. Lisa Scroggins says:

    I first read about this technology in the book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing Itself,” by Dr. Norman Doidge. It was intriguing & I would love to have access to a PONS device. Neuro plasticity may be the only option for those of us using rollators and continuing to worsen.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Any idea where the US trials are being held? I’d love to be in on them. I understand that PoNS therapy is not a silver bullet, but some improvement would be better than no improvement, and if I can accomplish that through something non-implantable and non-chemical, I’d be willing to deal with a good bit of discomfort and any amount of hard work.

  5. M. Vogelgesang says:

    They had trials in Wisconsin and had great results with people walking on a treadmill for 20 minute sessions. The results were so good the military took the device to try on traumatic brain injury patients, which is were the device has been for awhile. Glad that it is back in the news. Appears to be safe and not painful.

  6. Nona Horswell says:

    Hi,
    I met Norman Doidge, author of “The brains way of healing” at a talk he gave in London about 10 years ago. He talked about the PONS machine and showed a film of it being used on a patient with severe balance issues. I was really impressed and set my heart on trying it. Unfortunately neither my Neurologist or GP are familiar with it. I have been following Helios for several years but unfortunately progress seems so slow. I have MS and can’t wait to try it!!!

  7. Charles Lumia says:

    I would definitely try it. I was in PT before the coronavirus stuff hit and that seemed to help a bit with my balance. Anything that has the possibility of helping is worth trying for me.

  8. Dina Ackerman says:

    I have MS and tried the device that stimulates your leg (for drop-foot) 20? Years ago. I did not like he uncomfortable shock-like feeling behind my knee, so did not continue with that. Now my drop-foot ihas gotten much worse. The only thing that helps me is repeated Physical Therapy. I would like to try this method (on your tongue, and
    will ask my Neurologist about it!

  9. Julie⁸ Freeman says:

    I do not go to pt but do go to pilates to relearn some things. It would be interesting to give i a try. The pilates coach is also a pt

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