University of Toronto is reporting that a new device developed by the university’s researchers has shown positive clinical results in a trial on patients with spinal cord injuries. Only those patients whose condition was not expected to improve were selected for the trial:
U of T researchers have found that functional electrical stimulation (FES), a process that sends controlled bursts of electricity through the skin and into muscles, can help patients improve their step frequency, stride length and overall walking speed.
“This is a group of patients in which recovery is not expected,” says Professor Milos Popovic of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and the study’s senior researcher. “We got them on a treadmill and worked with them and 18 weeks later we saw quite a considerable improvement.”
Five patients, whose spinal cord injuries had taken place from two to 24 years prior to the study, completed two to five sessions per week of FES therapy. After practising with physiotherapists, the patients learned how to trigger their leg muscles as they walked. Over the course of 12 to 18 weeks, the patients gradually improved – one woman was even able to stop using a full-length leg brace while walking.
While the patients’ walking skills had decreased 10 weeks after treatment finished, the team found that overall walking skills were still considerably better than before the therapy.
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