Study: electrical stimulation may help paraplegics regain motor function

Electrical stimulation devices may turn out to be an important tool in helping paraplegics regain the use of their limbs.

In recent years, doctors and medical researchers have struggled to identify therapies that could help those with severe spinal cord injuries regain function. While some therapies, particularly those involving the use of stem cells, have shown promise, most are still at a very early stage of development. Recently, a team made up of researchers from several different institutions, including the University of Louisville and UCLA, announced that they had successfully used epidural electrical stimulation to help several paraplegic patients move their legs.

Researchers published the findings of their study, which involved four patients, all of whom had been classified as having suffered motor complete spinal cord injuries that prevented leg movement, in the most recent edition of the journal Brain. Doctors implanted a small epidural electrical stimulation device in each patient. The stimulators deliver an electrical current to the lower portion of the patients' spinal cords, similar to the signals that the brain sends to limbs in undamaged spinal cords.

This recent study builds upon earlier research published several years ago regarding the use of similar devices in a patient who had suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident. This first patient was also a participant in this new study. Each of the four participants had been paralyzed in a car or motorcycle accident.

The most significant finding was that the electrical stimulators allowed patients to make voluntary movements of the legs immediately after the devices were implanted. All patients showed recovery times that were far less than expected and results that were far greater than expected. The authors of the study believe this offers proof that, even in patients who have lost the use of their legs due to injury, some neural pathways remain intact. Amazingly, this seems to be true even for patients who suffered spinal cord injuries years ago.

Currently, the authors of the study believe that electrical stimulators, when combined with comprehensive rehabilitation routines, could prove to be the future of treatment for those who have suffered serious spinal cord injuries. More research is needed, but the lessons learned in this particular study have been described as groundbreaking for the field.

Despite advances in medical science, spinal cord injuries are never easy to deal with. If you have sustained a spinal cord injury in a car wreck or other accident, speak to a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can provide invaluable information about your rights. To learn more, speak to a personal injury lawyer today.

Keywords: Spinal cord injuries