Exercise Program For Spinal Injuries Could Improve Motor Reflexes

A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health announced that a training program that adjusts the body’s motor reflexes could help improve mobility for people who are living with an incomplete spinal cord injury. The training requires patients to suppress a “knee-jerk like” reflex from a slight electrical shock to the leg. The researchers hope that their conclusions will provide spinal cord injury patients with a beneficial rehabilitation practice.
At ONE Brain and Spine Center, Dr. Burak Ozgur and the medical team support a conservative approach to treating brain and spine conditions and examines groundbreaking research that could benefit patients. The ONE Center is located in Irvine, and continues to provide unparalleled patient care with countless treatment options for brain and spine conditions.
Aiko Thompson, Ph.D., and Jonathan Wolpaw, M.D., led the study, which took place at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. The idea for the study came about while studying the brain. Our brain makes decisions instantaneously even before other parts of the body have time to register what is happening. Dr. Wolpaw said, “the brain can gradually enhance or suppress reflexes as needed.” Bodily movement requires exercising the reflexes of the brain. When a person experiences a spinal cord injury, they lose that fine-tuning that allows the brain to make quick decisions.
Drs. Thompson and Wolpaw conducted their study with 13 participants who suffered a spinal cord injury but were still able to walk. The participants’ injuries occurred between 8 months and 50 years before the study. The patients’ all have symptoms of spasticity (muscle spasms) and an impaired walk. For the study, the researchers hope to learn if the individuals could gain mobility through suppressing a spinal reflex elicited by an electrical stimulation.
An electrical shock was administered to the participants’ calf muscle of their weaker leg. Within the ten-week study, nine people endured three exercise regiments each week. The researchers measured the size of their reflexes when they were encouraged to suppress it. The control group of four people was given no feedback to their stimulation. After the ten week program, the researchers measured the individuals’ speed within a 10 meter course and their gait symmetry (with electronic shoe implants).
Six out of the nine people in the exercise-training program were able to suppress their reflexes. At the end of the study, their walking speed increased by 59% (averaged), and they had a more symmetrical gait. These same individuals said they noticed improvements in their daily lives.
Dr. Thompson said the result of the study inspired spinal cord injury patients to exercise more. She plans to continue to study the effects of training and improve long-term effects of such injuries.
ONE Brain and Spine Center believes that research studies that encourage exercise and mobility are laudable for our practice. If you or someone you knows wants to learn about training programs and treatment plans offered at our facility, call and schedule an appointment today.
ONE Brain & Spine Center is the premier spine and brain center in Irvine, California, offering minimally invasive spine surgeries and minimally invasive orthopedic surgeries. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (949) 383-4190.
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.

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