Researchers at the University of Alberta have revealed that intensive rehabilitation training for patients with spinal cord injuries can stimulate repair in the brain and spinal cord.
They believe that these new branches growing from severed nerve fibres, along with compensating changes in the brain that would help in restoring hand function and the ability to walk.
The research led by Karim Fouad showed significant benefits of rehabilitation training after a cervical spinal cord injury.
"Some people take very desperate steps when they are paraplegic. They go to other countries to receive treatments like stem cell transplantations, and most of these approaches are not really controlled trials," said Fouad.
"They undergo a lot of risk and spend a lot of money, when in fact they could see more benefits with fewer risks from sustained, intensive rehab training," he added.
The study disclosed when animal models with incomplete spinal cord injuries get intensive training over many weeks they performed significantly better than their untrained counterparts.
"Research has found that after incomplete spinal cord injury, there is a moderate amount of recovery based on a rewiring process, a response of the nervous system to the injury," said Fouad.
According to the researchers it is a naturally occurring process and intensive rehabilitation training promotes this process.
It enables changes in the brain and spinal cord similar to a repair process.
"The way the animals succeeded in the grasping task post-injury was not the way they did it before. They compensated. They adapted. They developed a new way to do it," said Fouad.
Fouad concluded that people with these injuries don't have to do things the way they used to do before. They have to attempt and practice hard to find their own adaptive strategy.
The study appears in the November 2007 issue of Brain.