Training your way to greater dexterity

Can we “train” or “trick” our brains, through physical therapy or other innovative means, to perform finger movements that we currently cannot perform?

I am learning to play guitar in my late 20’s so I have been paying closer attention to my finger dexterity and their restrictions. I can generally move all my fingers independent of the others - except for my pinky finger. There seems to be only this one very specific movement that I cannot perform - which does not make much sense to me. It does not feel like a tight tendon or anything - it simply “feels” as if my brain cannot fully communicate with my pinky finger during this situation. Is this normal? Does anyone else experience this? Is it something I can train or “trick” my brain/body into controlling eventually? Is it something that I may have been able to do if I played the guitar (or other high dexterity activities) while younger? Is this how it feels to people who are temporarily paralyzed after extended periods of inertness in their limbs and appendages?
— Chris

Hi Chris,

Thank you for your questions.

It is possible to stimulate certain brain regions to stimulate finger movement. All our movements follow a neural pathway which is how neurons in our brains interact with muscles. With electrical or magnetic stimulation, scientists have already shown they can control finger movements remotely. You will love this TED video where the presenter shows how one can control a stranger’s fingers with a simple electrical device.

However, as a musician myself (I play the flute), I would suggest practicing! As the saying goes, practice makes perfect =) I used to have problems moving my fingers fast enough for some songs but with diligence, I could overcome the problem.

Many individuals who are paralyzed have unfortunate severed neural pathways that affect the communications between their neurons and muscles. This is why they have difficult exercising voluntary movements. This is not the case for you and me! For our case, it is probably because we have not actively train our brain to use that particular finger and so there are insufficient connections between the neurons and that particular muscle set. Fortunately, our brain is rather plastic which means that it can learn and unlearn things by forming/breaking synaptic connections. Therefore, with sufficient training, you might be able to enhance the number of neuronal synapses devoted for muscle dexterity at your fingers. You might also be keen to check this article out.

I see that there are some websites advising people how to improve their finger dexterity. Why don’t you try and let me know?