Every year, across the globe, 2.5 lac to 5.0 lac people suffer from spinal cord injury. In India approximately 15 lac people live with spinal cord injury, with 10,000 new cases being added to this group of individuals every year. As per the reports from WHO, people with inured spine are 2-5 times more likely to die prematurely than people without a spinal cord injury, with worse survival rates in low- and middle- income countries.
A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury in the spinal cord that leads to either temporary or permanent loss in the cord’s normal motor, sensory or autonomic function. Major reasons for SCI are road accidents, falls, sporting activities and violence. The severity of the injury and its location on the spinal cord are the two parameters that decide the symptoms of SCI. The general symptoms include chronic pain, partial or complete loss of sensory function or motor control of arms, legs or complete body. The injury takes its harsh form when starts affecting the systems that regulate bowel or bladder control, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. SCI can be diagnosed using an X-ray, MRI and CT scans.
If the injury is in the cervical (neck) region of the spine then it usually results in complete or partial tetraplegia / quadraplegia (loss of functions in limbs). Injury at or below thoracic spinal levels result in paraplegia (loss of motor or sensory functions of lower extremities). If lumbosacral regions of the spinal cord are injured then it results in decreased control of legs and hips, urinary system and anus.
A SCI is generally treated using medication (intravenous methylprednisolone) , immobilization (traction to stabilize spine), surgery (removing fragments of bones, foreign objects, fractured vertebrae that compress the spine). Researchers around the globe are working to find novel approaches to make SCI completely repairable.
As per the new study released in The American Physiological Society researchers from The University of Sydney in Australia reported that an intensive short-term nerve stimulation treatment could improve peripheral nerve function after the spinal cord injury. Patients with SCI had less excitable nerves with altered responses to electrical stimulation, indicating nerve dysfunction. In their research, patients with SCI underwent 30 minutes of electrical nerve stimulation therapy for 5 days a week for 6 weeks on one limb, while other limb remained untreated. After 6 weeks of the therapy, the nerves in the treated limb responded to electrical stimulation more like nerves in healthy subjects. On the other hand, nerve function in the untreated limb did not change over the six week period.
According to the researchers short-term peripheral nerve stimulation may be a new approach to prevent long-term damages in the nerve and muscle function and improving the rehabilitation outcomes. Electrical nerve stimulation has , thus, raised hopes for the patients suffering from SCI to again lead a normal dignified life in the society.