Thursday, February 19, 2004

New Insights Into Spinal Cord Injuries

People who suffer a spinal injury can still generate leg muscle activity independent of brain signals, says a study in the new issue of Spinal Cord.

Previous research showed locomotor training, such as exercising patients on treadmills, helps people who have suffered a spinal cord injury to learn to walk again. This new study says that adding weight to the limbs during therapy provides an important sensory cue to help those people regain the ability to walk.

The study of four patients with clinically complete spinal cord injury also found that moving one leg during therapy helps activate muscles in the opposite leg.

"Nobody has been able to show that in humans before. It appears there are left-to-right connections in the signal of the spinal cord, not just connections from the brain to the legs," research leader Dan Ferris, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, says in a statement.

He conducted the study as part of his post-doctorate work at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

The findings offer information for developing rehabilitation strategies. The study shows that therapists working with people who've suffered spinal cord injury should provide sensory information that simulates walking as closely as possible. Weight loading and movement in one leg can influence what happens in the other leg, the study says.