New Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

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Spinal cord injury treatment involving decreased oxygen levels may improve walking ability

November 27, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Depending on the severity, spinal cord injuries can result in a limited ability to move and walk. One surprising new treatment may improve walking ability of people with these injuries.

Researchers recently tested a treatment involving decreased oxygen intake on spinal cord injury patients.

These researchers found that the treatment allowed patients to walk faster and for longer periods of time, both immediately after treatment and in the weeks after.

The authors of this study suggested that the lowered oxygen intake treatment could be a safe way to promote recovery in patients with spinal cord injuries.

"Work closely with your doctor to recover mobility after spinal cord injury."

Randy Trumbower, PT, PhD, of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, and other researchers conducted this study on a new treatment for spinal cord injuries.

A spinal cord injury, depending on its severity, can impair a patient's ability to move and feel. This research tested "incomplete" spinal cord injuries, or injuries that did not cause the patient to fully lose function of the nerves in the spinal cord.

These researchers tested a treatment called acute intermittent hypoxia, or AIH, which involves decreasing the amount of oxygen a patient takes in.

The authors of this study wrote that AIH has helped improve strength in the past. This study tested whether the treatment would help people with spinal cord injuries walk faster and for a longer time period.

The researchers recruited 19 adults with incomplete spinal cord injuries. These participants were split into two groups.

One group received AIH treatment for five consecutive days by breathing through a mask that delivered lowered oxygen levels. Two weeks later, the participants received a similar "treatment" containing normal oxygen levels.

The second group received the same treatment, but within 60 minutes of each treatment, the participants walked as fast as they could for 30 minutes. 

For both groups, walking ability was measured at baseline using a 10-meter walk test and a six-minute walk test during the first and fifth days of exposure, and at one- and two-week follow-ups.

The researchers found that the patients who were exposed to AIH and AIH plus walking experienced improvement in their ability to walk.

Specifically, after AIH treatment alone, patients could walk faster than they could after breathing normal levels of oxygen. On average, the 10-meter walk took 3.8 fewer seconds at the two-week follow-up.

Walking endurance improved among patients who received AIH treatment and then walked for 30 minutes.

The researchers concluded that AIH, with or without 30 minutes of walking after the treatment, could improve the walking ability of people with incomplete spinal cord injuries.

This study was published in Neurology on November 27.

The research was funded by the US Department of Defense Spinal Cord Injury Research Program grant. Some of the authors reported ties to rehabilitation technology companies and pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
November 27, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013