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Repeated muscle stimulation can restore movement after paralysis

Two patients, one paraplegic and one tetraplegic, regained some control of their hands and feet after six months of a combination stimulation therapy, researchers in Helsinki report.

By Stephen Feller
Repeated muscle stimulation can restore movement after paralysis
Two paralysis patients regained some control over their hands and feet in a recent proof-of-principle study -- including a tetraplegic, pictured, who was able to grasp a cup for the first time since his injury -- using brain and muscle stimulation along with standard therapy. Photo by University of Helsinki

HELSINKI, Finland, July 15 (UPI) -- Restoring movement after paralysis is difficult, and generally impossible, but researchers in Helsinki found long-term stimulation returned limited use of hands and feet in a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki returned limited function to the hands and feet of two paralyzed patients by stimulating their brains and muscles during a six-month test of the method.

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The proof-of-principle study, published in the journal Spinal Cord Series and Cases, included two patients with paralysis caused by trauma, one a paraplegic with no movement below the knee and the other a tetraplegic who had some voluntary movement in the hands but not the ability to grasp.

Small studies, many proof-of-concept experiments with one or two participants, have suggested stimulation to muscles, the brain or the spinal cord can help patients regain use of their extremities, but widespread use of the methods has not been tested.

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"This is a case study with two patients only, but we think the results are promising," Dr. Jyrki Mäkelä, head of the BioMag laboratory at Helsinki University Hospital, said in a press release.

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In the new study, two patients received transcranial magnetic stimulation and simultaneous nerve stimulation repeatedly for six months, along with standard therapy for paralysis.

The paraplegic patient was able to bend both ankles after the six-month treatment, and the tetraplegic was able to grasp a cup, with the ability remaining for at least a month after stimulation treatment ended -- suggesting longer-term courses of the treatment could be more beneficial.

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"Further study is needed to confirm whether long-term paired associative stimulation can be used in rehabilitation after spinal cord injury by itself and, possibly, in combination with other therapeutic strategies," Mäkelä said.

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