A new form of non-invasive spinal cord stimulation is giving hope to millions of paralyzed people who yearn for a day where treatment doesn’t involve painful surgeries.
According to Neurology Advisor, the technology, known as “transcutaneous stimulation,” uses electrodes placed on the lower back to deliver electrical currents to the spinal cord. It is the first proven example of non-invasive spinal cord stimulation to allow paralyzed people to make “step-like movements” while suspended in air.
“These encouraging results provide continued evidence that spinal cord injury may no longer mean a life-long sentence of paralysis,” said Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at NIH.
“It’s a wonderful example of the power that comes from combining advances in basic biological research with technological innovation.”
The treatment is also good news for those seeking back pain relief through electrical muscle stimulation. The cervical spine supports the full weight of your head, which can be up to 12 pounds, and back pain is often the result of spinal problems. The hope is that these non-invasive treatments will offer the same promising results to people aren’t paralyzed, but who nevertheless experience debilitating pain.
The news hits close to home for many Utah residents who struggle from or know somebody with paralysis. According to the Deseret News, similar technology enabled a Utah man to stand up on his own after being paralyzed for five years as the result of a car accident.
At the beginning of the study, movements in the subjects were noted to be involuntarily only. However, as the treatment progressed, the subjects could make voluntary movements with their legs, eventually enabling them to move voluntarily without stimulation at the end of the study.
“It’s as if we’ve reawakened some networks so that once the individuals learned how to use those networks, they become less dependent and even independent of the stimulation,” said researcher V. Reggie Edgerton.
These new findings represent an important breakthrough in spinal cord paralysis, as well as in pain relief.