With continuous improvements in medical care, the outlook for those who have sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI) is better than ever before. That’s thanks to essential ongoing research into effective new treatment options as well increased understanding of spinal cord injuries in general.
Around 17,000 new cases of spinal cord injury are recorded each year in the US and it’s estimated that there are around 291,000 people living with either partial or full paralysis in the country.
In the past, paralysis as a result of a spinal cord injury was viewed as a condition from which significant recovery was seen as virtually impossible, but today, the outlook is much better. In recent years, new research has shown that the return of movement is indeed possible and that many individuals with an SCI might be able to benefit from improved treatment options.
Here we look at the cutting edge of spinal cord injury treatment and the effect it is beginning to have on patients.
Procedures such as epidural stimulation are starting to seriously challenge previous misconceptions and harbor the real possibility that SCI patients are able to regain mobility and experience significant positive changes in their condition.
In the normal course of a spinal cord injury, the damage is highly localized. In a complete spinal cord injury, all electrical impulses are unable to get through, affecting mobility, function and sensation below the injury site.
Epidural stimulation is a procedure which can bypass the point of injury and allow impulses get to areas such as the legs. It developed from the understanding that reflexes don’t actually need input from the brain to stimulate muscle movement.
In a normally functioning spinal cord, nerves transmit signals from the brain to muscles and other body organs. We think about standing and are able to do so. We tell ourselves to walk and we do that too. When that connection is severed, we can send the instructions but they are not received by certain body areas below the point of injury.
We know that this messaging is sent via an electrical impulse and we also know that you don’t need the brain involved to send that impulse. The involuntary response is a perfect example of this.
The dura is a protective coat that surrounds the spinal cord and researchers have found that if we are able to implant a device near the affected area, we can send an electrical impulse that bypasses the damage.
Spinal cord injury patients have already begun to see the positive effects that can be achieved following this procedure.
What we’re beginning to see with this breakthrough spinal cord injury treatment is encouraging. Patients have been able to regain sensation and make movements that were previously not possible.
It’s not just movement that epidural stimulation has the potential to help with. It can improve body temperature regulation, help with bladder and bowel control, improve sexual function and also help to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. These are all issues which individuals with a spinal cord injury may have to cope with.
Once the device is implanted, an extensive period of physiotherapy takes place to help the individual make further progress.
Case studies have shown examples of patients who have received epidural stimulation being able to take steps for the first time since their injury.
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