The road to recovery after a Spinal Cord Injury can be long and challenging. Depending on the extent of damage, a Spinal Cord Injury can lead to loss of voluntary function in some or all limbs and organ systems. While it was deemed incurable for a long time, recent research has demonstrated the potential of Regenerative Rehabilitation to reverse the effects of a Spinal Cord Injury. Here, we take a closer look at what that means.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injury
A Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is mutilation to the spinal cord that causes reversible or irreversible changes in its function. Symptoms may include loss of muscle function, sensation, or autonomic function in the parts of the body supplied by the spinal cord below the level of the injury. Spinal Cord Injury often occurs due to vehicular or sporting accidents and affects mainly people between the ages of 16 and 30.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury
The severity of the symptoms of an injury depends on where the injury occurred and how serious the impact is. If someone has suffered trauma to the head or neck, it is essential to get a check-up for a Spinal Cord Injury as soon as possible. Potential warning signs include:
- Twisted or awkwardly bent back or neck
- Numbness, tingling, or loss of movement in the limbs
- Difficulty with coughing or clearing mucus from the throat and / or lungs
- Loss of bladder / bowel control
- Loss of sensation to heat and cold
- Exaggerated reflexes
- Pain or stinging sensation in the head and / or neck
- Impaired breathing
Regenerative Rehabilitation for Spinal Cord Injury
When an injury occurs, the spinal cord changes at the cellular and molecular level such that axonal regeneration is affected. After initial symptoms such as inflammation and haemorrhage, scar tissue builds up at and around the site of the injury. Doctors do not yet fully know how and why these changes occur, only that such changes reduce the regenerative capacity of the central nervous system to almost nil. Owing to this, making a full recovery from a Spinal Cord Injury is practically impossible.
Over the last decade, however, several clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of regenerative therapies such as Stem Cell Therapy, stem cell nutritive therapy, immune engineering, and nanotechnology for Spinal Cord Injury. These primarily target the secondary or chronic stages of the Spinal Cord Injury, as treatment at the acute stage is practically difficult to execute in a clinical setting. The objective is to promote axonal regeneration and improve neuroprotection following the injury, thus avoiding cell death in the central nervous system. Some of the targets for Regenerative Rehabilitation include:
- Accumulated myelin debris at the secondary stage
- Accumulated extracellular amino acids at the site of the injury
- The protein tyrosine phosphatase σ (PTPσ), which leads to build-up of scar tissue
In particular, doctors are optimistic about cellular regeneration as a treatment option. They are using ‘next-generation’ stem cells that have been created from induced pluripotent stem cells. Being autologous, the risk of rejection by the patient’s body and the need for immunosuppression will no longer exist. Moreover, these stem cells can potentially be engineered to specifically target neural regeneration, such as by expressing certain growth factors or enzymes that will break down scar tissue in the spinal cord.
While much research still needs to be done to optimize these techniques for routine clinical use, they have delivered promising results in small-group settings. As they evolve, they could be used in conjunction with acute treatment to promote neural regeneration and even reverse the injury.
Other forms of treatment for Spinal Cord Injury
There are several forms of treatment that can improve functionality and keep complications at bay. The best treatment for Spinal Cord Injury involves a combination of:
- Physiotherapy, particularly strength and balance exercises
- Occupational Therapy
- Activities of daily living (ADL) training
- Speech Therapy
In short, a Spinal Cord Injury can lead to serious and even permanent loss of function in many cases. Regenerative Rehabilitation in Bangalore offers a ray of hope in this regard, particularly when administered in a targeted manner as soon as possible after the injury. In addition, patients can benefit from Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy to improve their mobility and independence.