Study finds treadmill therapy may help those with spinal cord injuries

Each year, thousands of people in the U.S. suffer spinal cord injuries in car crashes, falls and other accidents. Unfortunately, there is currently no way for doctors to repair patients' damaged nerve tissue, which means that spinal cord injuries are often permanent and debilitating. One recent study, however, indicates that treadmill therapy may aid recovery from spinal cord injuries when it is combined with other treatments.

Researchers at Ohio State University studied mice with severe spinal cord injuries. They found that injured mice that participated in treadmill therapy were much more likely to exhibit signs of recovery than mice that did not participate in such therapy. Their findings, which were published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, come with a caveat, however: treadmill therapy was only successful when combined with treatment to combat post injury inflammation in the animals' spinal cords.

The team's findings about spinal cord inflammation are particularly significant because they show that spinal cord injuries can cause harm in parts of the cord that are far away from the site of initial injury. For example, in cases involving mice, researchers documented instances of inflammation in the lumbar spine - a part of the spine that is especially important for preserving the ability to walk - even though the mice were injured in the middle portion of their backs.

The mice that participated in treadmill training in the days after injury without receiving treatment for inflammation experienced no benefits. But those that received treatment for inflammation, in addition to treadmill training, regained function in their legs for up to 42 days after treatment.

In recent years, researchers have begun to recognize the role of inflammation in contributing to the severity of spinal cord injuries. The Ohio State Study adds to this knowledge, particularly with respect to the understanding of inflammation in the lumbar spine. Specifically, researchers discovered that an enzyme, referred to as MMP-9, is responsible for encouraging inflammation in this area after an injury. Drugs designed to combat the effect of this enzyme are already in development and researchers point out that some antibiotics may even be useful in treating this kind of damage.

Of course, developing new, more effective treatments for those who have suffered spinal cord injuries will take time. As research efforts increase and new discoveries are made, doctors and other medical professionals are optimistic that new treatments will become available in the near future.