For so long, spinal cord injury patients have been wallowing in depression and devastation over not being able to walk again, as they know that these injuries are pretty serious and can even be life-threatening. There have only been very limited options for treating or helping patients cope with their disabilities, including anti-inflammatory drugs and spinal decompression. Sadly, these have not addressed the issue of recovering from the injury in terms of mobility and return to function. The neurologic deficits that these SCI patients have incurred have remained, leaving them debilitated.
However, current studies tireless research have been promising, and some technological developments have been introduced, which will help SCI patients realize their dream of returning to function and ultimately be able to walk again.
Stem Cell Therapy
These are undifferentiated cells that can change into specific cell types. They are also capable of renewing and multiplying themselves at the same time retaining their ability to transform into other cells. Because of this ability, stem cells are now being studied as to how they can replace nerve cells, as neurons have a limited capacity to regenerate.
Researchers are continually finding the correct chemical equations that will stimulate the stem cells to grow and regenerate like the neurons. They are now doing this by injecting stem cells from the bone marrow and into the cerebrospinal fluid to see if it can stimulate the proteins that are required to grow nerves and proliferate nerve impulses. Results that are currently released are quite promising.
Functional Electrical Stimulation
FES utilizes electrodes that are connected to a computer and attached to the paralyzed or weakened muscles to give bursts of electricity and elicit muscle contraction. In spinal cord injury, this is used to try and regain the function of muscles that are affected below the level of the spinal cord. When this was attempted, SCI patients showed mild to moderate improvement in the muscles of their hands and feet, the return of mild bowel and bladder control, and the return of muscle tone in the respiratory muscles, which enabled the patients to breathe without a ventilator. There were positive results for SCI as well as stroke patients.
Neurotherapy Through Virtual Reality
Virtual therapy has been revolutionized further to treat spinal cord and traumatic brain injury, patients. Studies have proven that VR can persuade the brain into thinking that it is efficiently functioning and performing the actions being asked to follow in the virtual reality environment. This can cause vertigo in people who do not have any brain abnormalities, but for those with traumatic brain injuries, this inspires the brain to activate neurological pathways that became ‘useless’ following the injury.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)
The BCI works by evading the damaged nerve cells from the SCI. They are implanted and function to regain control of muscle movement to the patients’ weakened musculature. In SCI patients where cognitive function is unaffected, clinicians have successfully used the signals from the brain to control the BCI. Hand and arm orthotics also use the BCI to produce hand and arm function to once paralyzed extremities. The BCI is among the most important innovations of today, enabling patients to experience partial or complete normalcy after SCI.
Wearing robotic devices has been providing SCI patients the opportunity to be able to walk again. According to researchers, repetition helps the brain and the spinal cord coordinate with each other in reestablishing the lost synapses that were due to the spinal cord injury. These exoskeletons are quite heavy, and they require assistance from therapists or people from home, but patients don’t seem to mind. What’s important for them is the fact that they can walk again. These robotic devices have been seen first in physical therapy but have a very promising future in spinal cord injury.