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New procedure for spinal cord injuries may let injured walk again

Thousands of people around the country and here in Colorado are involved in accidents every year. Many of these people suffer spinal cord injuries that leave them paralyzed and unable to walk. One new therapy could restore a patient's ability to walk, even if he or she was paralyzed more than two years ago.

A long-held belief in the medical community says that if someone has not regained the use of his or limbs after two years, the likelihood of ever walking again is nearly impossible. However, a new approach to rehabilitation could make that belief a thing of the past. Researchers believe that electrical stimulation could be the answer.

A series of electrodes are implanted below the point of injury in a patient's spinal column. The patient then practices making voluntary movements. At this point, researchers are unsure exactly how the treatment works, but there seems to be at least some connections in the spinal cord coming back.

Patients who agreed to be part of the research of this new rehabilitation were all paralyzed for at least two years. The first patient, a hit-and-run victim, was able to stand and even take steps. Similar success with subsequent patients proved that first patient's achievements was not a fluke.

It will be interesting to see how successful this treatment is in the long-term. If successful, thousands of people with paralyzing spinal cord injuries could have the chance to walk again. Of course, the cost of the treatment may be daunting to some Colorado residents. If an individual was injured through the negligence of another, he or she may receive an award of monetary damages through the filing of a personal injury claim. Such an award could provide the funds needed to take advantage of new therapies like this one.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Electric stimulation offers new hope for 'reawakening' paralyzed limbs", Melissa Healy, April 8, 2014

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