Shocked into walking
February 4, 2002 | Source: Nature Science Update
A partially paralysed man is walking with the help of tiny electric shocks to his spine. With training, doctors hope to help other paraplegics walk again.
The University of Arkansas team planted electrodes in his lower back and gave low-level electrical stimulation.
After months of training, the patient can now walk up to a kilometer. The stimulation method involves reactivating an innate walking program in the spinal cord that coordinates muscle movement and the left-right leg sequence.
Soft, constant stimulation of the spinal cord appears to excite this circuit and amplify the learned gait and cuts the energy cost of walking. Unused muscle wastes, so movement tires it easily. Stimulation and training are like a daily jog, they force the muscles to switch into a more energy efficient mode, the Arkansas team showed.