Well-Being Medical Advances

New study suggests electrical stimulation can help paralyzed people regain use of legs

Story at a glance

  • A recently published study suggests that electrical stimulation of the spinal cord can help paralyzed patients use their legs again.
  • As part of the study, researchers implanted modified spinal cord stimulators into three men who became paralyzed after motorcycle crashes.
  • The device, which is inserted under the skin and sends electrical signals to the spinal cord, has been used for pain treatment.

An early study suggests that electrical stimulation of the spinal cord can help paralyzed people move their legs again. 

As part of the study, which was published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine on Monday, Swiss researchers implanted modified pieces of technology called spinal cord stimulators into three men who became paralyzed after motorcycle crashes.  

Spinal cord stimulators, which are devices implanted under the skin and send small electrical signals to the spinal cord, have been used for years to help treat pain, according to NBC News.  


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But within hours of receiving the modified spinal cord stimulators, all three men were able to move their legs and after a day of physical therapy were able to stand, cycle, swim and walk with the help of a walker, the study said.  

After a day of treatment, the three men were able to take up to 300 steps independently but with some body support, the study adds.  

“It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work, but it’s a dream for most people in this group,” Jocelyne Bloch, an associate professor of neurosurgery at Lausanne University Hospital, and co-authored the research, told NBC.  

All three of the study’s participants were between the ages of 29 and 41 who had been injured several years prior to the study, had no ability to move or feel sensation in their legs and had at least 6 centimeters of healthy spinal cord below where they were injured, according to STAT News.  

Although more studies will need to be done to see to what extent the device can help those with paralysis, the fact that all three participants were able to regain some movement in such a short amount of time is noteworthy, one expert told STAT News.  

“Previous reports have described months of intensive neurorehabilitation alongside EES in order to restore motor function. The shortened time to treatment effect in the current study could allow more widespread adoption of this treatment (if pending clinical trials are supportive),” Eellan Sivanesan, director of neuromodulation in the Division of Pain Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told STAT News. Sivanesan did not take part in the study. 


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