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Electrical Stimulation for Spinal Cord Injury: 3 Exciting Treatments

the ultimate guide to electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury

Electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury is helping patients regain voluntary muscle control.

It appears that electric currents help stimulate movement by exciting neuronal activity.

This article will go over 3 promising treatments for spinal cord injury that utilize electrical stimulation.

Types of Electrical Stimulation for Spinal Cord Injury

There are currently 3 treatments in the works that use electrical stimulation.

They each have their unique methodologies and outcomes, but all appear very promising.

1. Epidural Stimulation for Spinal Cord Injury

Electric currents are sent down your spinal cord to excite the nerves below the injury.

The first treatment we’re going to go over is epidural stimulation.

It’s the most developed and known type of electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury.

How does it work?

The process involves implanting an electrode array into the lower surface of your spine.

The implant sends electric currents to areas below your level of injury. Electric currents mimic brain signals and help excite those neurons to promote movement.

You control the frequency and exposure of electric currents with a remote.

What are the results?

After intense physical training and epidural stimulation, patients have been able to improve mobility and recover walking ability.

However, these results have only been achieved with the stimulator on.

2. Intraspinal Microstimulation for Spinal Cord Injury

Another electrical stimulation treatment for SCI is intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS).

It builds off the main concepts of epidural stimulation but focuses more on precision.

should you try electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury?

How does it work?

Intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS) is the process of implanting thin, flexible electrode wires into the lumbar region of the spinal cord, which allows for more selective muscle activation than epidural stimulation.

Surgery for ISMS is much more invasive than that for epidural stimulation. The hairlike wires have to be placed inside the gray matter of the spinal cord.

This sends electric currents directly to motor pools, which control movement.

What are the results?

This incorporates a greater element of precision in stimulating the spinal circuits, leading to more stable functional results and reducing damage to spinal cord tissues.

With traditional functional electrical stimulation, muscle fatigue occurs rapidly which affects how far and long you can talk. In contrast, ISMS in animal models has yielded fatigue-resistant contractions.

Another advantage of ISMS is its ability to produce functional synergy groups. Rather than activating each muscle separately, you can stimulate a single wire to produce synergies of multiple muscles.

Research on rats, monkeys, and cats show recovery of paralyzed limbs. Although ISMS still needs approval for human trials, its effects on animal models prove promising.

3. Brain-Computer Interface

The last treatment that uses electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury is brain-computer interface.

This process is called many different names so if you ever hear about brain-machine interface, brain-controlled interface, neural-control interface, or mind-machine interface, know that it’s all referring to the same concept.

Brain-computer interface is a developing process that uses electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury recovery.

How does it work?

The basic idea behind brain-computer interface is to monitor primary motor cortex activity by placing electrodes near that part of the brain. The purpose of this is to reveal that there is an intent to move.

The electrodes will then stimulate electrical currents to restore functional activity in paralyzed limbs.

Just by thinking about walking, people can control the electrical stimulation that allows their legs to move again.

What are the results?

A 2008 study on monkeys used a neurochip stimulator to convert brain activity into electrical stimulation of paralyzed muscles. The monkeys were able to move their paralyzed arms through the brain-activated electrical stimulations.

Although the idea is still in earlier stages of research and needs further development, brain-computer interface definitely seems like a potential treatment for people with paraplegia.

Watch the video below of a non-invasive brain-controlled interface trial! It shows a patient with paraplegia (paralysis of the lower body) achieving overground walking after SCI.

Non-invasive methods have shown lots of promise so researchers are hoping to develop an invasive brain-controlled interface as a permanent solution to paralysis after spinal cord injury.

The Future for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

It’s pretty clear that electrical stimulation will play a significant role in the future of spinal cord injury recovery.

These 3 promising treatments have very different methods, but all share the common goal of recovering movement after paralysis.

There’s a lot to look forward to and we can’t wait to see how these treatments develop!

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