Sustaining a spinal cord injury is undoubtedly a traumatic experience, an experience which is universally and tremendously feared. When one thinks of a spinal cord injury, often they will immediately envision an individual whose mobility is severely restricted as a result and is now dependent on a wheelchair for the remainder of their life.

However, the prognosis depends on the severity of the injury. Individuals may only suffer mild symptoms. But on the other hand, severe spinal cord injuries can result in life changing damage to the body and even death.

Spinal Cord Injury Incidence and Prevalence

In the USA alone, it’s estimated that there are around 17,700 new cases of spinal cord injuries being diagnosed annually. From a population of approximately 327 million people, that equates to roughly 54 cases per one million people in the states.

Estimates also show that there are approximately 290,000 people currently living in the United States of America with this type of injury, which is quite a significant number and represents only one country in the world.

The World Health Organisation estimates that somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people are diagnosed worldwide with a spinal cord injury each year.

So it’s safe to say there are millions of people throughout the world currently living with some degree of spinal cord injury.

Current Outlook for Spinal Cord Injury Sufferers

Recent advances in technology and medical research have meant that the prognosis for those who sustain a spinal cord injury has often improved, with more options available to them to regain some form of independence. In the past, someone being diagnosed with permanent paralysis as a result of their injury would have little or no hope of achieving an outcome different from their diagnosis. But now, we are seeing that this is often not always the case. One relatively new treatment option has time and time again proven to be effective in helping patients regain mobility.

Epidural Stimulation

Considered as a breakthrough treatment for spinal cord injuries, epidural stimulation is certainly revolutionising the options available for individuals with this type of injury.

The procedure involves the implantation of an electronic stimulator within the lumbar region of the patient. The device, which can be controlled remotely, allows for an electric current to be applied to specific areas of the spinal cord. Once activated, it’s possible for the commands generated by the epidural stimulation device to bypass the site of the injury. This results in patients being able to voluntary make movements that were previously impossible.

A key part of the overall procedure involves a process known as ‘mapping’, whereby the patient will learn how to create voluntary movements during times when the stimulator is activated.

As well as noticeable improvements in terms of regaining mobility, recipients of this type of treatment have also experience significant improvements in other areas such as bladder control, muscle mass growth, body temperature regulation and sexual function.

Andrew Bell’s Mission to Walk Again

Andrew Bell, a young man from the United Kingdom, is one of several spinal cord injury patients who has already seen life changing improvements following this pioneering treatment. After a motorcycle accident close to his home in Durham left him paralysed from the waist down, he was told by doctors in the UK that he would never be able to move his legs again, let alone walk.

Standing proud – Andrew Bell, one of the spinal cord injury patients to receive epidural stimulation

 

However, he has since been able to take steps again following the epidural stimulation treatment he received and is continuing to make great advances in his recovery.

A Brighter Future

Technology continues to improve and enhance all aspects of our lives. From facilitating easier communication with the development of smart phones, to allowing for safer and more efficient means of travelling by the continuous development of mass transit vehicle mechanics; there is no doubt that we all benefit from advances in technology.

But when it comes to healthcare, seeing the life changing results that can be achieved from pioneering developments such as the epidural stimulation device, it really does make you appreciate the continuous research undertaken by the scientists and engineers involved in medical technology.

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