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First-of-its-kind study shows benefits of electrical stimulation therapy for people paralyzed by spinal cord injury
Date:2/17/2011

Feb. 17, 2011 A new treatment approach which uses tiny bursts of electricity to reawaken paralyzed muscles "significantly" reduced disability and improved grasping in people with incomplete spinal cord injuries, beyond the effects of standard therapy, newly published research shows.

In a study published online in the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, Toronto researchers report that functional electrical stimulation (FES) therapy worked better than conventional occupational therapy alone to increase patients' ability to pick up and hold objects.

FES therapy uses low-intensity electrical pulses generated by a pocket-sized electric stimulator.

"This study proves that by stimulating peripheral nerves and muscles, you can actually 'retrain' the brain," says the study's lead author, Dr. Milos R. Popovic, a Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehab and head of the hospital's Neural Engineering and Therapeutics Team. "A few years ago, we did not believe this was possible."

Study participants who received the stimulation therapy also saw big improvements in their independence and ability to perform everyday activities such as dressing and eating, says Dr. Popovic. "This has real implications for people's quality of life and independence, and for their caregivers."

Unlike permanent FES systems, the one designed by Dr. Popovic and colleagues is for short-term treatment. The therapist uses the stimulator to make muscles move in a patient's limb. The idea is that after many repetitions, the nervous system can 'relearn' the motion and eventually activate the muscles on its own, without the device.

The randomized trial, the first of its kind, involved 24 rehabilitation inpatients who could not grasp objects or perform many activities of daily living. All received conventional occupational therapy five days per week for eight weeks. However, one group (9 people) also received an hour of FES therapy daily,
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Contact: Carolyn Lovas
lovas.carolyn@torontorehab.on.ca
416-320-0147
Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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