Paraplegics Get Leg Function Back With Electrical Stimulation
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Tuesday, April 08, 2014 12:00 AM

Three more patients with complete lower-body paralysis regained some ability to move their legs and feet voluntarily with electrical stimulation to their spinal cords, researchers said.  Whereas the first patient required 7 months of stimulation before he showed any signs of voluntary movement in his lower extremities, the three subsequent patients were all moving their legs, feet, and/or toes within days of starting the treatment.

The intervention in all four patients consisted of a 16-electrode array implanted at vertebrae T11 and T12, over spinal cord segments L1 to S1. Epidural stimulation was delivered at varying voltages with frequencies of 25 or 30 Hz.  In addition to the stimulation, patients underwent standing and stepping training with body weight support, in the clinic or at home, for more than a year in one case and for up to 38 weeks in the newer patients.

All four had been paralyzed for at least 2 years. Two retained some sensory function in their lower extremities but no motor ability; the other two had neither sensory nor motor function.

Although standing for short periods became possible, none of the patients has yet regained an ability to walk. On the other hand, Angeli and colleagues reported, "all four of these individuals have found unique ways to incorporate their ability to move their trunk and legs into daily activities."