Health Team

Therapy Helps Retrain Damaged Spinal Cord

Posted July 27, 2007
Updated July 30, 2007

— For people who are partially paralyzed, treatment options are limited. But an intensive new therapy is getting some of these patients back on their feet.

Spinal cord damage disrupts the travel of messages from the brain to the legs and feet. So, physicians are using a locomotor therapy to retrain the body, hoping that repetition will help the spinal cord to remember how to function.

"We believe that the stepping reflex is actually held through the cord, and so we're really retraining the spinal cord," said Dr. Steve Williams, chief of rehabilitative medicine at Boston Medical Center.

A trial sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is designed to show that the therapy is cost-effective. Sixty therapy sessions can cost up to $50,000.

"One of the problems that many spinal cord injury patients face is a bed sore or an ulcer, and the studies have shown to heal a single bed sore can cost $100,000," Williams said. "So, if people can walk, they have no risk of bed sores."

Bob Konieczko has been mostly confined to a wheelchair for the past three years after falling off a roof. The therapy program is helping him to learn to walk again.

"(I'm) regaining the strength in my mid-section, which is the important part here. So (it's) very, very steady, slow progress," Konieczko said. "My stamina is a lot better."

"I don't walk with a walker anymore. I use the crutches, and my distance has almost doubled as far as I can walk," said Rich Maloney, another patient in the therapy trial.


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  • Tawny Jul 31, 2007

    Most folks don't realize that most research gets very limited funding from the government, and relies, primarily, on private sources of funding. For an individual with a spinal cord injury to even imagine the possibility of walking again is priceless! I don't think one can even fathom attaching an hourly fee to this possibility, djfraleigh!

  • WTFmph Jul 31, 2007

    From facts presented in this article, what I can gather is that if paraplegics are prodded by a personal trainer (occupational therapist) to get out of bed and walk with protheses like old folks' "walkers," then they can eventually walk with crutches and avoid bedsores.

    I say BRAVO.

    I visited a paraplegic friend in the hospital ten years ago who was being treated for bedsores. Apparently they did it with blown air to suspend the patient off the surface they are lying on. I'm not sure why this should cost $100,000. It's not exactly rocket science. Oh, I forgot, the program is administered by over-educated demi-gods.

    My friend had arms like Adonis and won many wheelchair races. I would love to see his quality of life improved if possible, but why didn't this common sense thing surface earlier. My friend would have done anything to walk again.

    I smell a rat.

  • djofraleigh Jul 29, 2007

    "Sixty therapy sessions can cost up to $50,000."

    Itemize that cost, please! $800/hr...for just exactly what?