Stephen P. Estes, Shepherd Center, Inc., Atlanta, USA

Spinal cord stimulation to augment activity based therapy

Funded in: 2017, 2018, 2019


Back to overview

Problem: Spasticity is difficult to manage and impairs functional recovery following a spinal cord injury.

Target: Transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (“tcSCS”) to stimulate spinal cord nerves during locomotor training

Goal: A greater reduction in spasticity and a greater improvement of walking function compared to locomotor training alone

 

Involuntary muscle activity, often referred to as spasticity, is a common problem following spinal cord injury. Spasticity can be evoked by stimuli or occur spontaneously, and it can manifest as spasms, clonus, or the stiffness associated with hypertonia. While medications are typically used to treat the general symptoms of spasticity, they often have additional side effects, like muscle weakness, that can impede rehabilitation. Physical therapeutics offer an alternative to these drug treatments, but the most effective therapeutic strategy for managing spasticity has not yet been identified. A combination of physical therapeutics may provide the best strategy for managing spasticity while also improving general motor control for functional movements.

Walking ability can be improved through locomotor training, which has also been shown to reduce spasticity. When locomotor training is combined with electrical stimulation, the benefits of training may be increased. To investigate the potential benefits of this combinatorial treatment strategy, we will use a kind of electrical stimulation called transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (“tcSCS”) to stimulate spinal cord nerves during locomotor training.

In order to facilitate the translation of study findings into clinical practice, this study uses a pragmatic design, meaning that the study will involve the use of real world clinical settings and practices. Participants will undergo their standard physical therapist directed locomotor training program while receiving transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tcSCS) as an additional treatment. The effects of locomotor training alone will be compared to the combination of locomotor training with tcSCS, specifically comparing the effects of these treatments on spasticity and walking function.

We expect that the combination of tcSCS with locomotor training will provide 1) a greater reduction in spasticity and 2) a greater improvement of walking function compared to locomotor training alone.

The findings from this study have the potential to rapidly facilitate the translation of a novel combination treatment for the management of spasticity and improvement of walking function into real world clinical practice.