Combined Transcutaneous Spinal Stimulation and Locomotor Training to Improve Walking Function and Reduce Spasticity in Subacute Spinal Cord Injury: A Randomized Study of Clinical Feasibility and Efficacy
Stephen Estes, Anastasia Zarkou, Jasmine M Hope, Cazmon Suri, Edelle C Field-Fote
Locomotor training (LT) is intended to improve walking function and can also reduce spasticity in motor-incomplete spinal cord injury (MISCI). Transcutaneous spinal stimulation (TSS) also influences these outcomes. We assessed feasibility and preliminary efficacy of combined LT + TSS during inpatient rehabilitation in a randomized, sham-controlled, pragmatic study. Eighteen individuals with subacute MISCI (2-6 months post-SCI) were enrolled and randomly assigned to the LT + TSS or the LT + TSSsham intervention group. Participants completed a 4-week program consisting of a 2-week wash-in period (LT only) then a 2-week intervention period (LT + TSS or LT + TSSsham). Before and after each 2-week period, walking (10 m walk test, 2-min walk test, step length asymmetry) and spasticity (pendulum test, clonus drop test, modified spinal cord injury-spasticity evaluation tool) were assessed. Sixteen participants completed the study. Both groups improved in walking speed and distance. While there were no significant between-groups differences, the LT + TSS group had significant improvements in walking outcomes following the intervention period; conversely, improvements in the LT + TSSsham group were not significant. Neither group had significant changes in spasticity, and the large amount of variability in spasticity may have obscured ability to observe change in these measures. TSS is a feasible adjunct to LT in the subacute stage of SCI and may have potential to augment training-related improvements in walking outcomes.