Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Recovery from spinal cord injury

An injury to the spinal cord, once considered a lost cause, may no longer mean an inevitable slide into chronic illness and physical decline. Studies are increasingly supporting the once-controversial idea that exercise can improve sensory and motor function long after the initial injury.

according to a news article in this month's Nature Medicine.

A recent trial showed that exercise training several years after injury using electrical stimulation of muscles (which are no longer effectively controlled by nerves) led to signficant gains in motor control, muscle mass and decreases in uncontolled jerking. These results suggest, but don't prove, that even well after the injury signficant regeneration of nerve-muscle connections are possible. Studies in animals also suggest nerve regeneration can occur, although some are skeptical.

The article also notes the impressive progress Christopher Reeve made before his death:
Before he died in 2004, Reeve had regained sensation in 98% of his body and some motor function, McDonald says.

Reeve could, for example, stand unassisted in a swimming pool, breathe on his own for several hours without the aid of a respirator, and hold a glass. His recovery was especially remarkable because he began to improve after five years of exercise therapy, hinting that some nerves had regenerated.


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