Spinal cord stimulation facilitates functional walking in a chronic, incomplete spinal cord injured

R. Herman, J. He, S. D'Luzansky, W. Willis, S. Dilli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Design: This paper describes a treatment paradigm to facilitate functional gait in a quadriplegic, ASIA C spinal cord injured (SCI), wheelchair-dependent subject who presented with some large fiber sensation, sub-functional motor strength in all lower limb muscles, and moderate spasticity. The study utilizes partial weight bearing therapy (PWBT) followed by epidural spinal cord stimulation (ESCS) with the assumption that both treatments would be necessary to elicit a well organized, near effortless functional gait with a walker. Function is defined in terms of accomplishing task-specific activities in the home and community. Objectives: To demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of combined PWBT and ESCS therapies aimed at promoting functional gait in a wheelchair-dependent ASIA C SCI subject. Setting: The Clinical Neurobiology and Bioengineering Research Laboratories at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and the Department of Bioengineering, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA. Methods: The study began with the application of PWBT. The subject walked on the treadmill until a plateau in gait rhythm generation was reached. Subsequently, ESCS, applied to the lumbar enlargement, was utilized to facilitate PWBT and, later, over-ground walking for a standard distance of 15 m. Gait performance was analyzed by measuring average speed, stepping symmetry, sense of effort, physical work capacity, and whole body metabolic activity. Results: PWBT led to improved stereotypic stepping patterns associated with markedly reduced spasticity, but was insufficient for over-ground walking in terms of safety, energy cost, and fatigue. ESCS with PWBT generated immediate improvement in the subject's gait rhythm when appropriate stimulation parameters were used. When compared to the non-stimulated condition, over-ground walking with ESCS across a 15 m distance was featured by a reduction in time and energy cost of walking, sense of effort, and a feeling of 'lightness' in the legs. After a few months of training, performance in speed, endurance, and metabolic responses gradually converged with/without ESCS at this short distance, suggesting a learned response to these conditions. However, at longer distances (eg, 50-250 m), performance with ESCS was considerably superior. The subject was able to perform multiple functional tasks within the home and community with ESCS. Conclusion: We propose that ESCS augments the use-dependent plasticity created by PWBT and may be a valuable adjunct to post-SCI treadmill training in ASIA C subjects. We also conclude that ESCS elicits greater activation of an oxidative motor unit pool, thereby reducing the subject's sense of effort and energetic cost of walking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-68
Number of pages4
JournalSpinal Cord
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Epidural spinal cord stimulation
  • Locomotion
  • Neuromodulation
  • Partial weight bearing therapy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Velocity and metabolic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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