Sports May Drive Brain Stimulation to the Masses

OK – yes this is a long post – but if you are an elite athlete, coach, or a just interested in sports, stay tuned….

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(The $99 plus shipping Go Flow Pro – with it’s included headband allows easy and secure electrode placement. So what does this have to do with sports?)

Introduction

The potential benefits of tDCS* and other brain stimulation technologies have been receiving online and media coverage for a few years now. One would have thought the great things tDCS can do for depression, chronic pain, learning, memory, athletic ability, etc. would be plenty to make it top news everywhere. But alas that is not the case. The Malcolm Gladwell “Tipping Point” has not been reached! tDCS is new, scary (electricity through the brain), and still needs more research and more concrete treatment procedures to tip – but it is rapidly getting there.

The “tipping point” for tDCS and brain stimulation may come via – of all places – elite athletics.

Sports Goes for Brain Stimulation

In recent months the professional and collegiate sports world has started to adopt tDCS (and other brain stimulation technologies) in rather spectacular fashion. One has only to watch the video(s) at haloneuro.com, youtube.com, or read recent articles in sports publications, including Sports Illustrated, to be awed by the results being claimed.

Now that certain elite athletes and their coaches have reported very interesting performance gains every competitive athlete is going to get curious about getting the same edge as word continues to spread. How do I know this? Look at all the demand for – and ruined careers caused by performance enhancing drugs in athletics! If an elite athlete can improve their performance, legally, by 3% or more by using a 9 volt battery don’t you think they will want to try it? What about coaches, fans, and investors – will they encourage athletes to try tDCS? In the years just ahead, you and I will witness a number of athletes (pro and amateur – and their teams) who will compete and succeed  – perhaps setting new records in their chosen sport – by way of brain stimulation.

No you say? If a pro athlete or team is willing to spend millions of dollars on tiny enhancements to shoes or swimsuits just to get a tenth of a second gain, how hard will it be for them to spend $99 or $599 for a brain stimulation device that can potentially bring about a comparatively large performance improvement? They will do it in a heartbeat.

Oh – BTW, you can guess that all of the not-so-elite weekend hacks will want to try brain stimulation too.  Think of all the sports that could be affected: golf, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, track and field, etc. Athletes by the millions! Brain stimulation can potentially help many of them!

Brain stim device manufactures ALERT: a tidal wave of demand is about to come your way! We need good products with good research behind them – and well written end-user guides!

Regulating Performance Enhancing Brain Stimulation

Sports oversight organizations that want to regulate this new form of performance enhancement will find it difficult to impossible. The fact that a small amount of current has passed through the brain of athletes will be impossible to detect – body chemistry will be no different than that of other athletes who have not engaged in electrical brain stimulation.

I’m curious if this summer’s Olympic games will include any athletes using brain stimulation to enhance performance? I don’t – know but would not be surprised. If you see any reports of such, please pass them along to me.

Brain Stimulation for Athletes – A Beginners Guide

While tDCS has been around for many years, it has been used little in the world of sports. There are a few vendors who have created related products (including foc.us, thync.com, and haloneuro.com) But it is the pioneering work by Halo Neuroscience that seems to have really captured the imagination and curiosity of the elites. Halo sells a very interesting Bluetooth headset that includes built-in electrodes positioned to allow stimulation of the motor cortex.


(Halo Neuroscience Bluetooth headset showing their unique tDCS electrodes.)


(Motor cortex diagram. From wikipedia.org.)

There are literally dozens of completed studies mentioned on pubmed.gov that show how a tiny electric current can enhance or attenuate motor cortex activity and related muscle activation.  Until recently, the tDCS equipment required was large, fragile, and expensive.  But Halo, Thync, foc.us, and others have changed that.

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(The 10-20 EEG System diagram. From wikipedia.org)

Exactly where to place electrodes, how much current to use, and for how long, for athletic enhancement is an area still open to much research. Halo Neuroscience, in one of their published studies, mentions placing the tDCS anode (plus) over C4 and the cathode over C3, and stimulating using 1.4 mA for 25 minutes. Other studies (on pubmed.gov for example) mention similar electrode locations or placing the anode at Cz and the cathode on the shoulder with current levels up to 2 mA and times between 20 and 30 minutes.

While the Halo headset is an innovative tool for bringing about athletic improvement, you can use any tDCS device to experiment with simulating the motor cortex. But lets be clear – it is experimenting. There is no FDA or other regulating body I’m aware of that watches over this emerging area of technology.  If you try it, you are truly on the leading edge. Proceed with much caution. Do your homework!

Using a tDCS Device for Motor Cortex Stimulation

Here are a couple of examples of using a commercially available tDCS device to stimulate the motor cortex and thus increase neuroplasticity. Done correctly and with enough repetition an athlete may see improvement in the their particular areas of concentration.

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(foc.us produces the very tiny Go Flow Pro tDCS device that snaps on the top of a 9 volt battery.  I think it is ideal for experimenting with athletic enhancement. I added my own arm-band to hold the tDCS device and battery while in use. It will easily fit in a pocket, too.)

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(Over the years all kinds of things have been used to hold electrodes in place – including head-bands, sticky gel, baseball caps, and yes – headphones! Here is an example of headphones with Caputron 2×2 electrodes attached. I’ve found that “Shoe Goo” glue can be used to stick just about anything to anything – and it works well for this application.)

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(I like the Caputron 2x2s because they are very flexible and conform to the head very well. I show them connected to a Go Flow Pro, but you can use any tDCS device with them – including the BrainStimulator.)


(The BrainStimulator Travel Model is another small tDCS device that seems appropriate for athletic activity. I’ve previously reviewed this device on my blog.)

tDCS Session Steps

Here are the simple steps I follow when using tDCS for athletic improvement.  I’ll provide additional detail in a future post as more research data comes in and in response to your questions.

  1. Make sure you are fully informed regarding what tDCS is and what risks are involved. If you have any unusual medical issues, consult with your doctor. See the list of web links below as a starting point of additional information and cautions.
  2. Make sure you have your tDCS device, battery, electrodes, headphones, straps, etc. ready to go. If you will be using a Halo headset, follow their directions as appropriate.
  3. Wet your electrodes (not to the point of dripping) with saline or tap water as desired. Place the anode (red or plus lead) at C4 and the cathode at C3 per the diagram above.
  4. Set your tDCS device for 1 to 1.5 mA and 20 to 25 minutes for the  session time.
  5. Start your tDCS session.

Sports Training and Activity

1. If your motions during your sport will not jar your electrodes you can begin your training as soon as your tDCS session begins. Electrode movement during a tDCS session could cause uncomfortable electrical surges and sags – and cause your tDCS session to terminate.  Your electrodes must remain stable and in contact with your scalp throughout your tDCS session. No you can’t swim during a tDCS session.

2. If your sport would likely jar or jostle your electrodes (or involves water), complete your tDCS session just before you begin training or activity. Relax and use the time to study information about your sport, competitors, etc.

3. For either case above, you may remove your tDCS electrodes as soon as your session completes. It’s important to know that enhanced neuroplasticity (brain stimulation) will go on for an hour or two after your tDCS session is complete. So train correctly during this time – use a coach that knows what they are doing – or at least be aware of yourself and that you are executing your activity in a correct and enhancing way.

4. With tDCS, repetition is important. You may not notice any dramatic changes right away – during your first training session. Perhaps by the 5th training session a positive change may become apparent.

5. If you experience any of the following, stop using tDCS and contact someone familiar with brain stimulation who can suggest changes in electrode placement  or other modifications to your program… burning or excessive skin irritation at the electrode site, dizziness, light flashes in your eyes (called phosphenes), any feeling or discomfort that seems unusual for the kind of training you are doing.

6. Some articles about tDCS suggest that you do no more than two sessions in a day, separated by at least two hours.  Further, some have reported difficulty sleeping if brain stimulation occurs after about 5:00PM.

Reasons tDCS Fails

Lets be honest, no treatment works for everyone. Even aspirin works better for some than others. tDCS is no different. It is my observation that those who can keep up the repitition required by tDCS (self motivated – or are motivated by a coach) do the best. If you can’t be disiplined enough to use tDCS in a regular and repeated way, then you will fail to achieve any gains with it.

Wrapping It Up

tDCS offeres at least the possibility that elite athletes can improve their performance in a noticable way with a technology that has an excellent track record of safety. However, this is still an area of much experimentation and research and may require varying electrode locations, current levels, and treatment times for each individual. It will be some time before enough experience is gained with enough athletes to know, for example, the proper setup and training techniques to improve basketball free-throw percentage, or football field-goal range and accuracy, etc. I can envision guide books (or at least web sites) that focus on particular sports and specific kinds of improvment and all the treatment variations that are possible.

In any case, stay tuned to your favorite sports news outlet as brain stimulation takes hold – and produces better scores and new records in all kinds of sports competition! This will be amazing to watch (and participate in.)

Web Links

Check out the following as a starting point of additional information on tDCS, brain stimulation, and safety:

www.speakwisdom.com

www.diytdcs.com

www.speakwisdom.com/2013/10/31/diy-tdcs-code-of-safety/

www.haloneuro.com

www.caputron.com

www.foc.us

www.thebrainstimulator.net

www.thync.com

*transcranial direct current stimulation

 

Go Flow Pro, Nice Brain Stimulation Kit!

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fan of foc.us. The small London based DIY company has been on a serious innovation binge since they entered the market with the foc.us V1 – which was by far the most versatile tDCS* device in its time. Later foc.us released the V2 which is still one of the most capable brain stimulation devices on the market (not just tDCS.)  Late last year, foc.us introduced the Go Flow – a simple, very portable, tDCS device for a very low price. It has evolved into a complete kit that the company is calling the Go Flow Pro – it includes all you need to have a very capable tDCS device that is  simple to operate – and only $99 complete.

foc.us was kind enough to send me a pre-production Go Flow Pro and I thought you might like to see what it looks like. The final production kits (that should ship very shortly) may be slightly different (given production tweaks, marketing decisions, etc.)

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(Pre-production Go Flow Pro kit. tDCS device, battery, wires,stick-on and sponge electrodes, and headband. Not shown are the sponges – also included.)

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(Here is the Go Flow Pro on set up with my test head.  Note that the new magnetic attach wires and sponge electrode shell in use the with the foc.us headband. )

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(The new headband has several “button holes”. The electrode shells are place in the desired button holes for the montage desired. The magnetic wire sticks to the electrode shell and plugs into the Go Flow tDCS device.  Away you go!)

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(Here is the whole setup again showing the headband and cathode electrode attached to the shell – the anode is out of view. BTW the strap can go under the chin and over the head if needed. I can imagine some montages will require two straps.)

I’ll have much more to say about the Go Flow Pro and how it can be used to nudge the brain in desirable ways in my next post.  The Go Flow Pro can be purchase directly from http://www.foc.us or http://www.caputron.com Final production units should be shipping in May.

IMG_3205
(A foc.us sponge electrode – top – and a Caputron 2×2 sponge electrode – nearly identical sponge surface area.)

*tDCS is transcranial direct current stimulation. See my blog (www.speakwisdom.com) or http://www.diytdcs.com for more information.

 

What Should I Buy If I’m New to tDCS?

 

++++ UPDATE AGAIN +++++ UPDATE AGAIN +++++ UPDATE AGAIN +++++

Great News! Caputron has just become a dealer for foc.us products. This means a US source for foc.us products (faster, less expensive shipping, support, etc.) See http://www.caputron.com/transcranial-electrical-stimulation/49-focus-go-flow-pro-tdcs-starter-kit.html

++++ UPDATE +++++ UPDATE +++++ UPDATE +++++

In mid-March of 2016, foc.us released a version of the Go Flow with sponge electrodes. This now becomes my “ideal” for someone new to tDCS. Sponge electrodes are very versatile and are reusable. The new “Go Flow Pro” includes the tDCS device, wire, sponge holders, sponges, and headband – all for $99 plus shipping (from London).

go-flow-pro-large
(The new Go Flow Pro. Image does not show connecting wire or sponges which are included.)

I’m leaving the rest of the post (below) in case you prefer stick-on electrodes or wish to make your own connecting cables.

+++++ FEB 2016 POST BELOW +++++ FEB 2016 POST BELOW +++++

In the last few years I’ve written plenty about tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), what it can do, various tDCS devices, etc. It’s been fun and gratifying to watch the whole “brain hacking” arena develop and grow – to the point that a good level of maturity has been obtained. Thousands of people have improved their lives in significant ways through tDCS – improving their learning/memory, easing depression and chronic pain, improving athletic ability, and much more.

I frequently get asked “what should I buy if I want to try tDCS?” The good news is that there are now plenty of good tDCS devices in the marketplace. A simple Google search for “tDCS device” will reveal many possible choices. If I were getting started in tDCS I would strongly consider the following (my opinion – yours may vary!):

  1. tDCS Device: My current favorite is the foc.us Go Flow ( http://www.foc.us/focus-go-flow-tdcs-brain-stimulator ) You can buy this cool little device for $39.99 plus shipping!  It is tiny (easy to carry in your shirt pocket), versatile, and does all the important things a tDCS device should do. The kit includes the tDCS device, connecting wire, stick-on electrodes, and a 9 volt battery.IMG_2912 (3)
  2. Adapter Cable: You will want a cable to adapt the Go Flow to standard tDCS cables. I would order ( http://www.foc.us/tdcs-tens-cable-adaptor ) It is $9.00 plus shipping (order at the same time you get the Go Flow to save on shipping.)
    cableadapter_2
  3. Electrodes: Most people do best using sponge electrodes. I prefer Amrex 3×3 electrodes.  They are available from many medical supply houses (Caputron Medical), Amazon, and more. They cost around $20 each and you will need two. The sponge can be easily replaced with a cut kitchen sponge when necessary.
  4. You will need a cable to connect the electrodes to the Go Flow and its adapter cable.  I suggest ( http://www.bluemoonhealth.com/tens_supplies_pages/banana_wires.htm ) It’s $6.95 plus shipping. There are other suppliers if you prefer.
  5. Last, you will need a simple headband to hold the electrodes in place for your tDCS sessions.  Almost any headband will do.  It needs to hold the electrodes firmly, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable.  I use Suddora Athletic Headbands – available from Amazon and others for about $6.00
    51j+CDVPtBL._SL1000_

Conclusion

So what does it all add up to? You will spend a little over $100 to buy all of the above (and pay shipping). This is a very reasonable cost when compared to that of long term medication use or the price of fancier brain hacking devices.  I use the exact setup shown above (as do some of my friends) and find it simple and convenient.

Again, you may prefer a different brand or type of tDCS device. See my blog or do some Google searching for information on other tDCS devices in this same price category.

If you think you might want something really sophisticated, consider the foc.us V2 . I think it represents the “state of the art” in DIY brain hacking capabilities. It costs considerably more ( $299 for the V2 module ), but can be used with the cables and electrodes mentioned above.

For more information on tDCS and brain hacking, see:

http://www.speakwisdom.com
http://www.diytdcs.com
reddit.com/r/tDCS/

You should also look at:

http://www.tdcsplacements.com
speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/diy-tdcs-code-of-safety/

 

 

 

How to Pick the Right Stuff for the Go Flow tDCS Device

(NOTE: The retail packaging and pricing of the Go Flow has changed as of mid-March 2016. See http://www.foc.us for details. This is part 2 of my series on the Go Flow. See http://www.speakwisdom.com for more.)

Introduction

So you are interested in buying a foc.us Go Flow tDCS* device? What accessories should you buy – and where can you find information on electrode placements and more? In this post I’ll review your options and make some suggestions based on my experience with tDCS and the Go Flow.

Go Flow image 2
(Image from the http://www.foc.us web site.)

Decisions, Decisions – Electrodes First

Oddly, you first need to decide whether you will use sponge or stick-on electrodes in your Go Flow tDCS sessions. Visit www.tdcsplacements.com to see common tDCS electrode placement scenarios. If the one you select involves placing an electrode over hair, stick-on electrodes will not work and you will need to use sponge electrodes. Why this choice comes first will become clear now…

The Go Flow tDCS module can be purchased alone ($9.99) or in a kit including stick-on electrodes and wire. For $19.99 you can get a kit that includes standard hydro-gel stick-on pads or for $29.99 you can get the kit with “Pro” hydro-gel stick-on pads. See www.foc.us for details and ordering information. If you intend to use 3rd party sponge electrodes (like Amrex), you can buy either the $19.99 or $29.99 kit and modify the included cable.

Go Flow review pic 3
(This is the $29.99 kit – complete and ready to go. It includes the module, wire, electrodes, and battery. Image from the foc.us web site.)

One subtle difference in the two types of stick-on pads is the use of silver as a conductor in the “Pro” pads. It’s important to note that stick-on pads are a “consumable” and must be periodically replaced (sold on the foc.us site.) You’ll need to keep in mind shipping delays in ordering replacements. Also, as mentioned above, stick-on pads won’t work over hair – only on bare skin. I personally prefer to use sponge-type wetted electrodes. Some consider them a hassle (getting them wet, making sure they are not too wet, cleaning them, etc.) However, they can be used on skin or hair and the sponges tend to last for many tDCS sessions.

3rd Party Electrodes

The foc.us Go Flow kits come with a nice connecting cable with magnetic ends designed to connect to specific stick-on type electrodes. If you choose to go 3rd party for electrodes (sponge or otherwise), you may need a different electrode connector. For example, connecting to Amrex sponge electrodes requires a 4mm banana plug.  A simple solution is to cut the ends off of the supplied foc.us wire and put on whatever type of connectors you need. Banana plugs are widely available from Radio Shack, Amazon, Parts Express, etc.

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(If you are a bit handy, you can cut the default ends off of the kit supplied Go Flow cable and attach your own ends. Here I’ve soldered banana plugs on one of my cables. Note: I fill the shell of the plug with silicon rubber to act as a strain relief.)

I’d love to see foc.us begin to sell preconfigured cables that include banana connectors and pin-type connectors for TENS electrodes (cheap and widely available.)

Going with Amrex Sponge Electrodes (instead of stick-on)

Amrex electrodes (and knock-offs) are widely available from medical supply companies (many online) and Amazon.com . I suggest purchasing the 3×3 size but other sizes are available (you will need two.) You can cut ordinary kitchen sponges to fit the Amrex shell as you need to do sponge replacement. Amrex 3×3 electrodes sell typically for $15 to $20 each depending on the supplier.

Another Cable/Adapter Option for Amrex Sponge Electrodes

If you choose to use Amrex sponge electrodes (or knock offs), you can follow the suggestion above and modify a foc.us supplied cable or purchase the following:

  1. An adapter that converts the unusual 2.5 mm 4 conductor jack of the Go Flow to a more common 3.5 mm 2 conductor jack. Source: http://www.foc.us/tdcs-tens-cable-adaptor $6 plus shipping
  2. A cable with a 3.5 mm 2 conductor plug, lead wire, and banana plugs that connect to the Amrex sponge electrodes. Source: http://www.bluemoonhealth.com/tens_supplies_pages/banana_wires.htm $7 plus shipping. This kind of cable can be ordered from a number of different suppliers.

One last possibility if you are handy with a soldering iron is to make your own cable from scratch. www.partsexpress.com is a good source for the needed 4 conductor 2.5 mm plug, banana plugs, and other needs.

Headband for Sponge Electrodes

You will need a headband to hold sponge-type electrodes in place during a tDCS session. A sweatband sold in discount and sporting goods stores will work nicely.

Summary

The foc.us Go Flow is a great tDCS device – providing great capability at a very low price. Making the proper selections for your needs is important. Remember, you need the Go Flow module, connecting wire, and electrodes (and perhaps a headband.)  The Go Flow kits are a great bargain!

Feel free to post questions on this blog – or email me at brent@speakwisdom.com . What else would you like to know about tDCS by way of this blog?

If you haven’t already, please see part 1 of my series on the Go Flow at https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-brain-hacking-revolution-continues-introducing-the-foc-us-go-flow-part-1/

See my blog www.speakwisdom.com  for more general information on tDCS. www.diytdcs.com is also an excellent resource.

Thank you.

Brent

Caveat

Anyone considering the use of tDCS or any brain stimulation technology should do their homework. It’s important to understand the technology, risks, and if you should be excluded based on seizure disorder or other complications. If you are unsure you should seek the advice of a doctor, preferably one using tDCS or similar technologies in their practice.

*tDCS is transcranial direct current stimulation