The unique therapy, often associated with the rehabilitation regimen used by the late actor Christopher Reeve, is only available at a handful of hospitals around the country.
Michele Basso, director of OSU Medical Center’s neurorecovery network, has been studying spinal injury and looking at cellular responses in a laboratory setting. She feels the therapy will be beneficial. “Research suggests that we can retrain spinal cords to recognize movements and not work directly through the brain. If you provide the right kind of sensory information into the spinal cord, it will recognize it and say, ‘Oh, I know what that is. That’s walking.’ We can manipulate the weight that goes through the legs to help the spinal cord remember how it’s done. We have seen it work in the lab,” says Basso.
With the help of a team of physical therapists and researchers, the participants are lifted from their wheelchair and supported by an overhead harness in a standing position over a treadmill. With part of their weight supported over the moving treadmill, physical therapists move the patient’s legs to simulate walking.
Dr. Jerry Mysiw, a physician in physical medicine at Ohio State’s Dodd Hall rehabilitation facility and medical director for the study, says spinal cord injuries are devastating and affect every aspect of a patient’s life. “Their social, personal and physical activities and interactions all are impacted by these injuries,” said Mysiw. “We hope this ground-breaking work will open a new chapter of therapy and treatment for people with this type of impairment.”
Funding is provided through the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in cooperation with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Participants in the program receive therapy several times a week for an extended period of time. Results can range from lessened pain, enhanced balance, better respiratory and heart health, and in some cases, the ability to walk. The overall goal is to see an improved quality of life for participants.