Repeated muscle stimulation can restore movement after a paralytic attack, finds a study that could pave a new opportunity to rehabilitate patients with spinal cord damage.
In the study, two patients with spinal cord injuries caused by trauma received a form of treatment that combined transcranial magnetic stimulation with simultaneous peripheral nerve stimulation repeatedly for nearly six months.
One patient was paraplegic — paralysed from the knees down, and the other was tetraplegic — partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso –, with some voluntary movement of the hands but no capacity to grasp.
After approximately six months of the stimulation treatment, the paraplegic patient could bend both ankles, and the tetraplegic could grasp an object.
“We observed strengthened neural connections and partial restoration of movement to muscles which the patients were previously entirely unable to use,” said Anastasia Shulga, Neurologist, at University of Helsinki in Finland.
The movement restored during the treatment was still present a month after the stimulation treatment had ended.
“This is a case study with two patients only, but we think the results are promising,” added Jyrki Makela from Helsinki University Hospital, pointing out that rehabilitation of patients with chronic spinal cord injuries is highly challenging, and new treatment methods are sorely needed.
Long-term stimulation treatment of this type was used for the first time to rehabilitate patients paralysed as a result of a spinal cord injury.
Further study is needed to confirm whether such long-term stimulation can be used in rehabilitation after spinal cord injury or can be used in combination with other therapeutic strategies, the researchers concluded.