A device called Compex Motion has been developed by University of Toronto scientists with the object of helping people with spinal cord injuries walk again. The device makes the muscles work again by sending bursts of electricity through the skin.
The bursts, called functional electrical stimulation or FES, is unlike similar therapies tried in the last 20 years as the patient's movement is not dependent on the machine.
Instead, the FES is designed to teach people with cord injuries how to trigger their muscles independently so that they can gradually wean off the device and walk on their own.
The researchers studied patients who were given the device two to five times a week for 18 weeks. The patients walked on treadmills and gradually increased their step frequency, stride length and overall walking speed.
The last part of the treatment focused on helping the patients learn how to make their leg muscles work without the help of the machine, and one of the researchers, Milos Popovic, said the results were encouraging.
They found all the patients experienced significant improvement during the trial, especially one woman who was able to stop using her full-length leg brace.
In addition, although all five patients' walking skills had decreased 10 weeks after the treatment concluded, they were all doing considerably better than they had been before they received therapy.
The researchers said the results were preliminary and they are conducting further studies on the device, with results expected in a year.