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Treatment to Increase Mobility After Paraplegia

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When an injury occurs to the spinal cord, the effects can be devastating. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system with the brain, and relays information to the peripheral nervous system; the spinal cord can be divided into five segments: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal.

The Mayo Clinic explains that a patient can have a complete injury, where she experiences a total loss of sensation and motor ability, or an incomplete injury, where the patient still has some feeling or mobility. The type of paralysis the patient has also depends on which areas of the body are affected, and where in the spinal cord the injury occurred. A patient diagnosed with tetraplegia or quadriplegia has problems with her arms, legs, trunk and pelvic organs, and has an injury above the first thoracic spinal nerve. A patient with paraplegia has an injury below the first thoracic spinal nerve, and exhibits problems with her trunk, legs and pelvic organs, though all three of these anatomical parts may not be affected. As a result, the patient has problems moving on her own, feeling sensations (pain, temperature, pressure) in the affected limbs, and can also have problems with bladder and bowel controls.

After spinal cord damage, activities like walking seem impossible. However, recent research using paraplegic rats have opened up the possibility. ScienceDaily reports that a combination of drugs and electrical stimulation have helped these rats walk after their injury; the rats were able to move without regeneration of the nerve fibers that were damaged.

The rats used in the study all had spinal cord injuries that affected their hind legs; as a result, they could not walk on their own. The researchers placed the rats on a treadmill and gave them two treatments: the first was a drug injection, which acted on the neurotransmitter serotonin; the second was electrical current, given in a small dose, to the area of the spinal cord below the injury. ScienceDaily states that “the combination of stimulation and sensation derived from the rats' limbs moving on a treadmill belt triggered the spinal rhythm-generating circuitry and prompted walking motion in the rats' paralyzed hind legs.” The rats also had weight-bearing training from the walking.

However, this research does have its limitations. While the rats could walk when placed on the treadmill, they could not walk on their own. Nevertheless, this research opens new possibilities for treatment in human beings, though more testing would need to be done before the process would be available for human patients.
Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch received her bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in May 2009. She is the Hartford Women's Health Examiner and she writes about abuse on Suite 101.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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