Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a catastrophic event which results in severe sensory, motor and autonomic impairment at and below the level of the injury. Given that muscle weakness is a common sequel of SCI and a major cause of poor functional recovery, therapies that improve muscle strength is justified and essential.
Recent studies from our laboratory have demonstrated profound peripheral nerve excitability changes after traumatic SCI. Changes in peripheral nerve function was evident within one week of cord injury and the overall excitability changes were similar to in-vivo recordings from healthy nerves subjected to limb ischemia, an intervention known to impair function of the Na+/K+ pump. These recent studies provided new evidence that peripheral nerve function is affected by traumatic spinal cord injury. Therefore, it is possible that some motor impairment after the initial trauma to the spinal cord maybe secondary to peripheral nerve dysfunction superimposed on disconnection of lower motor neurons from upper motor neurons. The project funded by the Brain Foundation will specifically investigate the neuroprotective benefits of short-term electrical nerve stimulation and resistance training on peripheral nerve function, plasticity and patient outcome post spinal cord injury. This research project will increase our understanding of the mechanisms and rehabilitation of spinal cord injury and will have major clinical implications for the management and rehabilitation of spinal cord injury.