Spinal stimulation success not just a "one off"

Posted by Kym Provan on
Spinal stimulation

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It was great to hear some good healthcare news on the television yesterday.

I am referring to the report detailing the results of treatment provided to four men who had each sustained serious spinal cord injury at the University of Louisville's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre.

The treatment involves stimulating the spinal cord below the level of injury, with electricity and the effect appears to be that this makes the neurological pathways through the spinal cord more receptive to electrical impulses from the brain. Although the treatment is certainly not a miracle cure, and does not act to repair the damage already caused to the spinal cord, it has enabled the patients to regain some conscious movement and control of their lower limbs. The Louisville centre reports that this has provided significant benefits in terms of quality of life, to those patients.

Three years ago it was reported that the electrical stimulation treatment had appeared to improve function for Rob Summers, treated at Louisville.  The concern though was that this may just have been a one off success or that the improvement was unrelated to the electrical stimulation. This new report indicates that the treatment is more likely to benefit those who are able to be treated. As a keen supporter of spinal injury rehabilitation units and charities, I am of course really pleased to hear of positive developments in treatment methods and therapies such as this. 

Spinal cord injury is usually both devastating and permanent. Voluntary control and use of the body below the level of spinal cord damage is essentially lost. As well as causing paralysis and significantly impairing mobility, spinal cord injuries often also result in poor bladder, bowel and sexual function, which whilst not so visibly obvious, are frequently even more difficult to come to terms with. I was therefore very pleased to read that the electrical stimulation treatment also seems to have a beneficial impact upon bladder and bowel control, and sexual function.

I have acted for many individuals who have suffered spinal injury, and am very aware of the impact that such an injury can have on every aspect of their lives, and those of their families. As well as affecting their ability to work, participation in hobbies and activities, relationships, holidays, accommodation needs and so forth, a spinal injury can seriously impinge upon an individual's independence and psychological well being. Although electrical stimulation of the spinal cord does not offer a cure or even the ability to walk unaided, being able to regain some muscular control and redevelop muscle tone, can have a very positive effect, as described in today's report.

It is to be hoped that the results reported by the University of Louisville will lead to larger scale studies, and ultimately a further widely available treatment choice, which can be used in conjunction with other medical, therapeutic and equipment options to maximise potential and quality of life for those who have been unfortunate enough to suffer spinal cord injury.

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About the Author

Photograph of Kym Provan

Kym specialises in clinical negligence claims and heads our clinical negligence team in Southampton.

Kym Provan
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023 8085 7317

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