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Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

Not long ago, an injury to your spinal cord meant life was irrevocably changed and you were left bound to a wheelchair at best.

Especially before emergency responders and medical practitioners knew how to properly respond to and treat suspected spinal cord injuries, many resulted in complete severance of the spinal cord and total paralysis below the point of injury.

Today, however, with great increase in understanding about how the spinal cord works and many advances in technology, new and exciting effective spinal cord injury treatments are developing that are giving patients hope that they can get their life back.

Doctor examining x-ray of an damaged spine

Spinal cord injuries will usually be labeled as one of the following:

  • Tetraplegia: also known as quadriplegia. This is the most severe form and occurs when the injury is in the cervical spine (neck). The higher the injury, the more severe. This form limits or completely hinders the use of all limbs beneath the injury and can cause complication with respiratory, bowel, bladder and other functions.
  • Paraplegia: the result of injury to the thoracic spinal cord (mid back), this can cause full or partial paralysis to the lower half of the patient’s body.
  • Triplegia: from incomplete spinal cord injuries, this causes a loss of movement and sensation to both legs and one arm.

While once, there was little hope for recovery, particularly for those who suffered tetraplegia, advancements have now been made in spinal cord injury treatment that are truly changing patients’ prognosis.

3 Types of Available Spinal Cord Injury Treatments

Three main types of spinal cord injury treatments, regenerative treatment, epidural stimulation, and spinal cord reconstruction, are making an enormous difference in sufferers of spinal cord injuries. Some of these treatments are still new and very innovative, and thus have not made their way around the world yet. But news of their success is spreading and countries across the globe are beginning to investigate and implement these treatments for themselves.

  1. Regenerative Treatment

    What Is Regenerative Treatment?

    Since some of the cause of symptoms from spinal cord injuries are due to inflammation and cell death, Regenerative treatment, or cellular therapy, uses human cells to try to reverse this process.

    Human cells injected into the injured area of the spinal cord are self-renewing and intelligent, able to identify what cells are needed in the area and become the type of cell needed. Thus, cellular therapy has the potential to decrease inflammation, slow the process of cell death, stimulate growth in existing cells, and replace damaged cells.

    If effective, this could go a long way in restoring spinal cord function.

    Benefits and Successes of Regenerative Treatment

    Cellular therapy has been used in clinical trials and studies since 2005. In certain countries in Asia, the therapy has been combined with other treatments for spinal cord injuries.

    Findings vary, but so far patients treated with regenerative treatment have experienced decrease and prevention of inflammatory responses, increase in cell growth, sensory improvement, and motor function restoration. Many of the patients treated with regenerative medicine treatment are able to regain voluntary control of their affected limbs and has regained reasonable functions back.Physicians have observed that when cellular therapy is combined with other spinal cord injury treatments, such as Epidural Stimulation, the progress and results are significant.

  2. Epidural Stimulation

    What Is Epidural Stimulation?

    X-ray image of the epidural stimulation device

    Epidural stimulation is a treatment that re-introduces electrical signals to the spinal cord. Since the nerve system loses, in part or completely, contact with the brain and its signals after a spinal cord injury, the stimulator acts to provide signals and stimulation to the nervous system that it no longer receives from the brain.

    The treatment requires a surgical procedure to implant an epidural stimulator device below the level of injury which sends the similar signals to the spinal nerves and muscles normally sent by the brain. The device has two parts: a neuro-stimulator which is essentially a battery or power source, and a set of electrodes which basically “hook up” to the spine.

    The device is positioned over the lumbar spine and delivers a continuous electrical current. This stimulated the nervous system and locomotor-like activity, allowing the body to re-learn how to feel and move.

    Benefits and Successes of Epidural Stimulation

    Epidural stimulation has been used for a few years in Asia. In the United States, the FDA just approved an extensive human study to be performed at the University of Louisville. Few other universities and hospital in North America are also treating patients on trial and case study basis. 

    To date, many patients who have received Epidural Stimulation have shown unprecedented improvements. Patients with complete spinal cord injuries have recovered the ability to voluntarily move their legs, stand up, regain bowel and bladder control, and more.

  3. Spinal Cord Reconstruction Surgery

    What Is Spinal Cord Reconstruction?

    Spinal cord reconstruction surgery is an advanced form of spinal surgery that attempts to reconnect the spinal cord.

    During the surgery, the surgeon will remove scar tissue, separate the nerves, and reconnect the damaged spinal cord. The way this can be accomplished is by grafting in peripheral nerves from the patient’s calf. These peripheral nerves are easy to access and their removal does not impair the patient’s calf function at all, which is why they are the prime choice for this surgery.

    The peripheral calf nerves will be used like a bridge, reconnecting the broken part of the spinal cord. If necessary, the surgeon will place a biological tube as well. This acts as added support to the bridge and protection to the spinal cord, allowing it to recover more quickly and soundly. One of the benefits of a biological tube is that the body can absorb it quickly – within 7 days – meaning no surgery will be needed to take it out.

    Benefits and Successes of Spinal Cord Reconstruction

    To date, patients who have received spinal cord reconstruction surgery, especially when in combination with intense rehabilitation and other therapies, such as cellular therapy, have seen significant improvement.

    In one facility, as many as 70-80% of patients experienced sensation improvement of areas below their injury, and 45-55% were able to regain some limb movements and/or flexibility before they were discharged. After just one year, as many as 20% of the patients gained the ability to walk with the help of a crutch.

Combining Spinal Cord Injury Treatments

 As implied above, these spinal cord injury treatments seem most effective when done in combination. The effect of combined treatments has seen truly marvellous results that have helped restore patients’ independence and dignity.

As these treatments result in more and more successes, they become increasingly available across the globe. It will be exciting to see how an increase of their application and broader study will improve these treatments even more.

Improvements Following Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

Spinal Cord Injury patient treatment testimonial Andrew Valadka

In recent years, patients with spinal cord injuries that just 10-15 years ago would have sentenced them to a life of bondage and loss of dignity, are now experiencing hope with the development of these new treatments.

Even patients with complete spinal cord injuries may be able to regain feeling and the ability to voluntarily use their limbs and even stand again.

You can learn more about the results that have been achieved the by viewing these spinal cord injury treatment testimonials.