Erasmus MC researchers have discovered that they can “activate” the legs of people with a complete spinal cord injury. This allows patients with support to stand up again, they say in the scientific journal on Monday Neuromodulation.
Five people who had been living with a complete spinal cord injury for at least four years participated in the study. They cannot use their legs because a break in their spinal cord prevents the signals from the brain from arriving in the legs.
By placing a device in the lower back that delivers electrical currents to a nerve node, muscle reactions are triggered. Because the nerve knot is under the spinal cord injury, the signals do arrive this way.
This has never been attempted because spinal cord injury researchers usually look at stimulating the spinal cord itself, says Erasmus MC. Research leader Sanjay Harhangi discovered by chance that electric impulses might help after learning that they were used for nerve pain and that patients’ legs suddenly moved.
Harhangi and his team were able to “activate” the legs of the five people within five days. The electrical pulses contracted the muscles in their legs. In addition, the legs tensed so that they stretched at the knees. The stretch was strong enough to support weight, according to the researchers, allowing some of them to stand with support.
Harhangi speaks of “a beautiful result”, because the five had been paralyzed for years and there was no rehabilitation or training prior to this. Whether they can ever walk again is not yet known. There, according to Harhangi, more research is needed.