Spinal cord injuries most often occur due to a high-impact accident, like a car crash. When this injury occurs, it can fracture or dislocate the vertebrae of the spine that then causes tears in the spinal cord itself or pinched nerves.

These injuries are further divided into complete and incomplete. Patients who have incomplete spinal injuries may still retain some movement below the point of injury. Spinal cords that cannot send signals past the level of an injury are considered complete. New research is looking into ways to improve the mobility and quality of life for those with spinal cord injuries, both complete and incomplete.

Study in Neurology finds technique to help patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries walk better

In a recent study published in the journal Neurology, researchers proposed that a new treatment may be able to help those with incomplete spinal cord injuries with walking. As they noted, 59% of people with spinal cord injuries suffer from incomplete injuries and, of these, there is room to improve overall walking skills and mobility.

Interestingly enough, the treatment includes intentional hypoxia (short periods spent breathing low levels of oxygen). Researchers think that this state of decreased oxygen may affect the amounts of serotonin present in the spine and help restore connections within the spine. When the study was done with 19 patients with spinal injuries, those who received the treatment had a 250% improvement over a six minute walking endurance test. Research is ongoing, however, doctors caution that utilizing this treatment without direct medical care can cause serious injury.

Stem cell therapy may provide the way for the future of spinal cord injury treatments 

In a PLOS Biology paper, researchers from around the world analyzed the data behind stem cell therapy for injury treatment. This therapy is based around the use of regenerative cells, called stem cells, that may be able to build back up areas of damage or injury within the body.

Since this is a new area of research, much of the published studies deal directly with animal testing. Researchers in this newest study conducted a meta-analysis of the already 156 studies about the topic in order to find statistical evidence of its use for treatment. Their initial research suggests that stem cell treatment may lead to an improvement of about 25% in sensory and motor outcomes.

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Image by Pete via Flickr

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