By Marvin Harris
The voluntary leg movements that five completely paralyzed men relearned without surgery, believed to be a first, signal significant progress toward helping spinal injury sufferers recover multiple body functions.
The men’s step-like movements, not comparable to walking, occurred when electrodes on the skin of their lower backs delivered electrical pulses to their spinal cords. Their legs were suspended in braces hanging from the ceiling that let their legs move freely without resistance from gravity. Eventually, the men could move their legs without stimulation.
“These encouraging results provide continued evidence that spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifelong sentence of paralysis,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew of the National Institutes of Health in a news release. Researchers published the study, which the NIH helped fund, in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
Pettigrew said the potential to offer a life-changing, non-surgery therapy to patients “could greatly expand the number of individuals who might benefit from spinal stimulation.” Of the nearly 6 million Americans who have paralysis, 1.3 million have spinal cord injuries, the researchers said.