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Chances Of Walking After Spinal Cord Injury

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Who Is Going To Walk A Review Of The Factors Influencing Walking Recovery After Spinal Cord Injury

Walking again after spinal cord injury – © EPFL+CHUV
  • 1Spinal Cord Unit, IRCCS Fondazione S. Lucia, Rome, Italy
  • 2Clinical and Research Movement Analysis Lab, Fondazione S. Lucia, Rome, Italy

The recovery of walking function is considered of extreme relevance both by patients and physicians. Consequently, in the recent years, recovery of locomotion become a major objective of new pharmacological and rehabilitative interventions. In the last decade, several pharmacological treatment and rehabilitative approaches have been initiated to enhance locomotion capacity of SCI patients. Basic science advances in regeneration of the central nervous system hold promise of further neurological and functional recovery to be studied in clinical trials. Therefore, a precise knowledge of the natural course of walking recovery after SCI and of the factors affecting the prognosis for recovery has become mandatory. In the present work we reviewed the prognostic factors for walking recovery, with particular attention paid to the clinical ones . The prognostic value of some instrumental examinations has also been reviewed. Based on these factors we suggest that a reliable prognosis for walking recovery is possible. Instrumental examinations, in particular evoked potentials could be useful to improve the prognosis.

Time Is Spine The Critical First 48 Hours

Spine doctors who treat SCI understand the meaning of time is spine. This phrase refers to the critical first 48 hours after the SCI, which is known as the acute phase of injury. Nerve tissue quickly dies during the acute phase, so promptly diagnosing patients and starting treatment is essential to preserving long-term health and quality of life.

+what Is The Difference Between A Complete And An Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries can be divided into two types of injury complete and incomplete:

  • Complete Spinal Cord Injury: A complete injury means there is no function below the level of the injury no sensation and no voluntary movement.
  • Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury: An incomplete injury means there is some function below the primary level of injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. With the advances in acute treatment of spinal cord injuries, incomplete injuries are becoming more common.

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What Is The Prognosis After A Spinal Cord Injury

While modern advancements in medical science have come a long way in the treatment of these cases, there is still no guarantee when it comes to spinal cord injuries. Individuals who have experienced damage to the spine, but not paralysis, have the greatest chance of recovery.

The first year of recovery is typically very difficult for spinal cord injury survivors, as they begin to adjust to their condition. The key to recovery during this period is the use of physical and occupational therapy. The extent of functionality fully returning is usually apparent within about two years of the initial injury.

Preparation For Gait Training For Spinal Cord Patients:

Patients with spinal cord injuries learning to walk again

Maintenance of posture is very important before teaching walking after spinal cord injury. The patient must learn to pay attention to sensations in the upper trunk and also learn to compensate for loss of equilibrium reactions in legs and lower trunk.

Prior to ambulatory training balance exercises are taught to the patient to locate his point of balance, learn control of body segments and master in body weight shifting. Balance exercises while standing are taught first in parallel bars and then on mat. Before making patient to stand on parallel bar from wheel chair, putting and removing of orthosis is taught. Putting on and of the orthosis is usually done in sitting and supine position. While standing the locks of the orthosis should be properly locked to prevent falling and maintain stability.

After the fitting of orthosis patient is given appropriate training to stand from the wheel chair with the help of parallel bars and then progression is made with the use of crutches.

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Walking After Spinal Cord Injury: Key Points

Many factors contribute to relearning how to walk again after a spinal cord injury including the level and severity of injury, the intensity of rehabilitation, and motivation.

Consistently practicing highly repetitive exercises helps stimulate neuroplasticity in the spinal cord. This encourages the spinal cord to make adaptive changes and rewire functions affected by injury to healthy regions. The more you practice, the stronger these new connections become.

We hope this article inspires you to stay positive and work hard towards your recovery. It wont come quick or easy, but it will be worth it. We highly encourage you to document your recovery process with pictures and videos. Theyll help remind you of how far youve come and keep you motivated.

The Future For Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

As previously mentioned, recovery after spinal cord injury is highly dependent on the severity of injury. Those with more spared neural pathways have a better recovery outlook.

But is there hope for individuals with very severe or complete spinal cord injuries? Below, well discuss promising interventions that suggests a very hopeful future.

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Assistive Devices May Include:

  • Special walkers that have safety straps at your hips and trunk.
  • A standard walker with no wheels on the legs.
  • A rolling walker , if your balance is a little better.
  • A rolling walker with forearm platforms, if you have weak arms and hands.
  • A rollator walker , if you have good enough strength to walk in the community, but still need help with balance.
  • One or two forearm crutches, if you have even better strength to walk in the community, but need less help with balance and have a weak grip.
  • One or two quad canes with four tips at the bottom, if you have good strength to walk in the community, need even less help with balance, and have at least a fair grip.
  • One or two straight canes with a single tip at the bottom, if you only need a little help with your balance to walk in the community and have a good grip.

If you are able to use crutches and canes, you will likely start with two, using one in each hand. Sometimes you will train with a crutch or cane in only one hand to be able to use your other hand to carry things, open doors, etc. However, you should be careful when using only one crutch or cane. Many people who use a device in only one hand tend to lean on it too much and develop a limp to that side. Using a device in each hand helps to keep your posture straight and your steps even.

What The Future Holds

After Spinal Cord Injury, A Goal to Walk Again

While these studies are an exciting advance, future studies in this area will need to overcome some limitations.

First, this method required the people involved to undergo an invasive and resource-intensive series of steps to implant the EES electrodes and determine the best stimulation approach. This may be prohibitive for others due to physical or financial constraints.

In addition, so far the therapy has only been trialled in a very small number of individuals who have experienced relatively mild, incomplete injuries of the spinal cord. This is not indicative of the severity of injury for many.

It is critical that future studies investigate whether EES may be effective even with more severe injuries, including complete injuries where only a few or no undamaged nerves remain.

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We still dont know if this technology can lead to improvements in everyday activities.

And its important to remember that motor function is only one of a host of symptoms experienced by those with spinal cord injury. In a survey of individuals with paraplegia, they said improvement of bladder and bowel control and restoration of sexual function was more important for their quality of life than being able to walk again.

So while those who have suffered a spinal cord injury have reason to feel cautiously optimistic, there is still much work to be done in this area.

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The Chances Of Walking After Being Paralyzed

All the mentioned factors can help to estimate the chances of walking again. Indeed, many studies were carried out to predict the possible functional outcome after SCI based on the level of lesion, AIS grade at admission, age, etc. A 2014 study by Scivoletto and associates gathered results from several clinical case studies and designed the following predictive scale:

AIS at Admission and other Factors Functional recovery one year after injury
AIS A, cervical lesion
AIS A, thoracic or lumbar lesion 5-8.5%
AIS B, light touch preserved 0-33%
AIS B, light touch, and pinprick preserved 66-89%
AIS D, > 50 years 80-100%

The percentage range of functional recovery represents variability in the results reported in different studies. Variability in results involving human subjects is universal, although negligible, due to demographical differences of the study participants.

The table indicates an association between different factors and functional outcome and gives an estimate of chances for functional walking after SCI.

Every SCI case and every patient has a unique combination of factors, either known or unknown, that can affect their recovery course and define the maximum potential outcome. Therefore, every piece of information you may get about your chances to walk with a broken back should be taken with a grain of salt.

Retraining Walking After Spinal Cord Injury

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT00059553
Recruitment Status : UnknownVerified August 2005 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development . Recruitment status was: Active, not recruitingFirst Posted : April 29, 2003Last Update Posted : June 18, 2009
  • Study Details
Condition or disease
Spinal Cord InjuriesQuadriplegiaParaplegiaCentral Cord SyndromeBrown-Sequard Syndrome Behavioral: Locomotor treadmill training with body weight support Phase 2Phase 3

Conventional rehabilitation following spinal cord injury emphasizes functional gains through strengthening and compensation, using braces and assistive devices to achieve mobility. Rehabilitation practice using compensatory approaches is based on the prevailing assumption that neural recovery is not possible following SCI.

Inclusion criteria:

Exclusion criteria:

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Please refer to this study by its identifier : NCT00059553

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Promising Results But There Is Room For Improvement

The device is a huge accomplishment in this field of research, but Rowald cautions its far from a cure for paralysis. While the device stimulated the three men to quickly walk again, their movements were clumsy and jerky. They also needed more training to support their body weight. All men could take about 300 steps but needed body support.

Further, there is always a risk with surgery. Implanting the device requires an invasive surgical procedure because it is placed underneath the vertebra on top of the nervous system. For this reason, people with spinal cord injuries are an ideal group because there is less concern that the researchers can cause damage in the area.

But the number of eligible patients narrows because you need at least six centimeters of uninjured spinal cord below the injury. Younger individuals may be a good group to try this technology out because they have a better chance of recovery.

Rowald said finding a less invasive approach to implant the device can reduce the risk of further injury. The scalability of this technology would increase dramatically, he added. We could use it with people of different age groups, different neurological dysfunctions, and different disease profiles.

The researchers plan to expand these findings into a larger clinical trial in the United States and Europe. Further research will look into making the device more accessible by connecting the software to smartphones or wearables, such as the Apple Watch, according to STAT.

Spinal Cord Implant Allows Paraplegics To Walk Again Scientists Say

Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

Three men paralyzed with severe spinal cord injuries were able to walk again days after receiving a spinal cord implant that stimulates trunk and leg muscles — a development scientists think could have broad application as a commercial product.

Scientists implanted 16-electrode devices into the epidural space on the menâs spines, between the vertebrae and the spinal cord membrane, CNN reported. The electrodes receive electrical currents from pacemakers implanted under the skin of their abdomens that are wirelessly controlled with a tablet computer, CNN said.

Michel Roccati of Italy, who lost his ability to walk in a 2017 motorcycle accident, said now that he has the implant, he can move around town with a walker and stand to take a shower.

“I am free,” Roccati said. “I can walk wherever I want to.”

The study was led by Jocelyne Bloch from Lausanne University Hospital and Grégoire Courtine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The results were published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Electrical stimulation of the spine has been studied for years but hasnât shown such immediate results.

In 2018, for example, the Mayo Clinic in the United States said a man paralyzed in a snowmobile accident was able to walk again with a spinal implant, but only after 22 weeks of physical therapy.

The men in the recent study had lost all voluntary movement below the site of their injuries but were able to take steps on a treadmill the day after surgery, CNN said.

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Spinal Cord Injury: Study Offers New Way To Predict Who Will Walk Again

Each year, thousands of Americans come to trauma centers across the country with devastating spinal cord injuries, often as the result of an automobile accident. Many die before they reach the hospital for the survivors, recovery can vary significantly. Once a patient is stabilized after injury, the next question is invariably whether he or she will walk again. A study published in the March 19 issue of The Lancet suggests four simple measures may help physicians predict ambulation outcomes in these individuals with greater than 95 percent accuracy.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries: The Early Days

What’s all the confusion about “complete” and “incomplete?” Complete usually means total or whole, while incomplete usually means unfinished or not yet perfect. Although there aren’t many situations where we would like to hear ourselves described as “incomplete,” spinal cord injury may be one of them. Indeed, when it comes to nerve injuries and muscle paralysis, most everyone thinks that a partial paralysis or an incomplete injury is better than a complete injury or total paralysis. Does this mean that an incomplete injury is a good injury? It depends on how you look at it.

In the world of spinal cord injury, incomplete tells us a lot and very little at the same time. It tells us that a person does not have total paralysis or loss of sensation, that his or her spinal cord was not totally damaged or disrupted. But that’s all it tells us. Incomplete injuries run the gamut:

  • They can be so mild that they cause almost no muscle weakness or visible signs that a spinal cord injury ever even happened.
  • They can be so severe that they leave the individual looking and feeling not very different from someone who has a complete injuryexcept, perhaps, for some areas of preserved sensation.
  • Typically, they fall somewhere in between.

The Facts

There’s almost always hope of recovering at least some function after a spinal cord injury. But is there more hope after an incomplete injury? Perhapsat least early on. Here’s what we know:

Will I Walk Again?


Possible Guidelines

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Standing From Wheel Chair Is Taught As:

  • Patient brings his wheel chair near parallel bar.
  • Locks the brakes of the wheel chair.
  • Patient slides to the edge of the chair and puts his both limbs on the ground with the help of hand.
  • Now knee joint of orthosis is locked in extension.
  • Patient grasps the bar with the help of hand.
  • Now by transferring the body weight over hands, patient pulls his body in standing position.

Once in upright position between parallel bars, training for different activities such as balancing, co-ordination and strengthening are taught to the patient.

The parallel bar activity can be graded as:

  • Initial parallel bar activities.
  • Progression is made by elevating both arms simultaneously.

f) Arm raising sideward:

In this procedure, activities are performed, same as above but the arms are raised at sides.

g)Arm swinging:

  • Body weight is distributed equally over both the feet.
  • Hands are removed from parallel bar gently and kept at the side of the body.
  • Now, swing the arm forward and backward.
  • If balance is disturbed, grasp the bar.

Strengthening exercises in parallel bar:


This activity requires significant upper limb strength.

  • Hands are placed over parallel bar just interior to thighs.
  • Body weight is lifted upwards by pushing down the parallel bar with simultaneous elbow extension and shoulder depression.
  • Starting position is gained by controlled lowering of body.

b)Stepping forward and backward:

c)Dipping activity:

Co-ordination exercises in parallel bar:

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