Media Coverage

Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation

Cutaneous nerve stimulation to reduce spasticity and improve motor coordination after spinal cord injury
Progress in Research, issue 41. 2002

CRPF_2002_report_01_0001A spinal cord injury cuts off communication between the brain and the extensor muscles that move the wrists and hands and ankles and feet. This disruption often causes the extensor muscles of the legs to contract erratically, resulting in spasticity.In people with incomplete spinal cord injuries who still have some strength and muscle coordination, this spasticity is painful and impairs whatever movement and walking ability they may have. By electrically stimulating the cutaneous nerve that serves the skin on top of the foot, researchers have stopped unwanted extensor muscle activity in the legs of stroke patients. This therapy has improved their ability to walk. Other evidence suggests that cutaneous nerve stimulation also reduces extensor muscle activity in people with incomplete spinal cord injuries and may help increase activity in some less-active muscles that a spinal cord injury weakens. For example, the stimulation may help ankle flexor muscles to perform better.

 

CRPF_paulHowever, before cutaneous stimulation can be used to improve muscle coordination after spinal cord injury, doctors and physical therapists need to understand the widespread effect of this stimulation. In this study, Dr. Zehr will try to “map” the extent of the interconnections to muscles across the body after he stimulates the cutaneous nerve in people with partial spinal cord injuries. He hopes to learn more about the connections from nerves to the skin and the extent to which cutaneous pathways can be used to treat spasticity and improve muscle strength and coordination. His findings could lead to treatments to reduce spasticity and might well help people with incomplete spinal cord injuries preserve or improve theirwalking ability.

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