Study says Spinal cord stimulation may restore arm and hand mobility after stroke

A small study was conducted about the stimulation of the spinal cord for stroke patients. This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies(BRAIN) Initiative. This research brought out a device that is used to stimulate a patient’s spinal cord, which leads to the mobilization of their frozen arms and hands. This experiment was conducted on two stroke patients who successfully restored their arms to use them for daily life uses like holding a fork to eat.

The device uses a set of thin metal used as electrodes are implemented in the patient’s spinal cord. Electric impulses are transferred from the electrodes to the spinal cord. These impulses regulate neural circuits in the spinal cord that make them ready to review the movement signals from the brain. Due to this, the muscles weaken due to stroke and start responding to brain signals, and the patients can lift their arms, move fingers, open or close fists or hold household stuff.

The researchers found if the cervical sensory nerve roots in the spinal cord are targeted and stimulated continuously, it can enhance the strength, mobility, and functionality of the arms and hands. The stimulation process also involves practicing more complex tasks that involve more skill and dexterity. Activities like opening locks, using utensils for daily use, etc., are practiced as they haven’t done these tasks in years.

It was unexpected but observed that the benefits of the device persisted for several weeks after its removal. This gave researchers a hint that the assistive stimulator device can provide more robust long-term results if it is perfectly planned, combining physical and occupational therapy.

One of the four persons around the world above the age of 25 will have to go through strokes. One-third of them will get lasting defects and face difficulty in the mobility of the arms and hands. This will lead to a lot of disabilities which will impact the daily life of people. To date, there is no effective treatment for the paralysis that was caused by the chronic stage of stroke. The chronic stage begins after six months after the initial stroke incident.

All these findings from the research have given a practical stimulation protocol that can be used clinically to improve upper limb mobility after a stroke. This is the starting stage to finding solutions to cure paralysis. It is important to do more research on it to make it more clinically useful. More research will optimize the stimulation protocol to make good use of it for the patients.