Advancements in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Using functional electrical stimulation, patients with spinal cord injuries can maximize recovery.

Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries

Damage to any part of the spinal cord can cause changes in sensation, strength, and function below the injury site. Damage to the spinal cord is more than just a physical injury; it can also affect your mental and emotional state.

Following a spinal cord injury, your ability to control your limbs depends on the “completeness” and neurological level of your injury. 

A “complete” injury means the spinal cord has been completely severed, and all feeling and ability to control movement below the injury site has been lost. An “incomplete” injury means the spinal cord was not fully severed and some degree of motor or sensory function below the affected area was spared.

The neurological level of a spinal cord injury refers to the place of injury. Paralysis of the lower half of the body is referred to as paraplegia, and it affects all or part of the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. If the paralysis is below the neck and affects your arms and legs, it’s called quadriplegia.

New Solutions

With advancements in technology, improved treatment options to mitigate long-term effects for spinal cord injury are available. An especially beneficial rehabilitative technique utilizes Functional Electrical Stimulation, or FES.

FES is an intervention method that activates weak or paralyzed muscles in the arms and legs using an electrical current. In recent years, the technology has been integrated with ergometers, which allows patients to utilize FES while performing repetitive cycling of the arms and/or legs.

How It Works

When the patient is positioned on the cycle, small electrode pads are placed on the leg, arm, and/or core muscles. These pads provide the electrical current that causes your muscles to contract and assist with pedaling the cycle. This allows the patient to practice active therapy, which means the muscles are able to do what they are meant to do, gaining strength and conditioning with progress. The FES cycle is also equipped with motor support to assist the patient when pedaling or to provide resistance, as appropriate.

Benefits to Patients

In addition to helping patients increase muscle strength, aerobic function, and endurance, the FES cycle also improves blood flow and decreases a number of potential problems associated with paralysis and immobility. The highly trained therapist working with the patient during treatment will be able to adjust the setting on the bike to provide increased or decreased stimulation.

An Expert Weighs In

“The addition of FES powered systems to our hospital allows us to provide more options and better serve clients with spinal cord injuries. The use of these systems allows the therapy staff to address many of the long-term health issues associated with spinal cord injury and improve the quality of life for these clients. The FES powered system can also be beneficial to other clients with neurological injuries that have affected their muscle strength/control.”

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