An extraordinary new therapy promises to help spinal cord injury patients regain their ability to walk. Science Daily recently reported that a paralyzed man can walk with assistance thanks to spinal cord stimulation and physical therapy. The Mayo Clinic and the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted the study and Nature Medicine published the research findings. The Mayo Clinic's Neural Engineering Laboratories launched the spinal cord study in 2016. Clinic director Kendall Lee says the study will show scientists which neural networks function after paralysis.
Rising Strong and Moving Forward
The 29-year-old patient suffered a spinal injury at the thoracic vertebrae during a 2013 snowmobile accident. He lost all physical function below the spinal cord injury and cannot feel anything below his torso. Researchers implanted an electrode in the man's epidural space, an area that sits in the outermost part of the spinal canal. Scientists position the device below the injury. The implant helped the participant's neurons receive signals to step or stand up.
The patient attended 113 rehabilitation therapy sessions at The Mayo Clinic. During the first week of the study, he used a harness that balanced his upper body. The tool also reduced his risk of falling. Researchers provided physical trainers at the patient's lower body to help him stand. The paralyzed patient didn't regain feeling in his legs, so he used a mirror to watch his limbs' movement. Trainers told him about each leg's position to help the man walk.
Slow and Steady Progress
The research participant progressed tremendously by week 25. Eventually, the patient no longer needed a harness to exercise. Mayo Clinic trainers provided intermittent support. The participant learned to balance his body and propel himself forward. Trainers provided occasional support for the client as he stepped forward with the help of a walker.
The paralyzed patient achieved several impressive milestones during 113 rehabilitation sessions. He can now walk the length of a football field (111 yards or 0.1 km). Additionally, the patient exercises for 16-minute spurts. His stepping pace is 13 yards (11.89 meters) per minute.
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