Patients who have suffered paralysis of the hand after a spinal cord injury may benefit from noninvasive nerve stimulation techniques that focus not just on the nerves in the hand, but also the nerves in the brain.
Research recently published in the Journal Current Biology focused on 19 people who had suffered spinal cord injuries and had lost mobility in their hand and arm. Each person in the study was given a combination of electric stimulations. The first was a stimulation of the ulnar nerve in the wrist, and the 2nd type of stimulation was a stimulation of the targeted nerves in the brain. The brain cell stimulation was administered by placing an electromagnetic coil near the scalp, to deliver electric currents to certain targeted nerve cells in the brain.
Each person received a total of 100 such combinations of electrical pulses over a period of 20 minutes.
The researchers found that there was a temporary ability to move the arms and hands among the persons who received such electric stimulation. They were able to perform simple tasks, like picking up pegs and moving them, which they were not able to perform earlier.
That is encouraging, but the downside is that the results of the nerve stimulation seemed to last for only 80 minutes. It’s also hard to tell exactly how effective the treatment will be for the general population, because the study was conducted in about 19 people with a spinal cord injury. That isn’t exactly a large sample.
However, the researchers believe that such therapy may be useful when used as part of an in-home rehab program for people with a spinal cord injury. It might even be possible to develop some kind of device in the future that can be used at home to receive such electrical stimulation.