Suffocating Damaged Nerves Back To Life

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Updated: 11/14/2011 1:37 pm
Meet a young man who’s making a comeback from a debilitating spinal cord injury in a very unusual way.  An experimental rehab therapy that has patients breathing their way to recovery.

A spinal cord injury often causes permanent disability or loss of movement and sensation below the site of the injury. The ability to control limbs depends on two factors: the neurological level of the injury, which is the lowest functioning segment of the spinal cord, and the completeness of the injury. An injury is considered complete if all sensory and motor function is lost below the neurological level. The injury is incomplete if there is still some sensory and motor function below the injury site. Symptoms of spinal cord injuries include loss of movement; loss of the ability to feel heat or cold; loss of touch; difficulty breathing; coughing; and loss of bowel or bladder control. (SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)

CAUSES: A traumatic blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of the vertebrae can cause a spinal cord injury. The nerve fibers that pass through the injured area are affected, and therefore, may impair part or all of the corresponding muscles and nerves below the site of the injury. Other causes of spinal cord injury include a gunshot or knife wound that penetrates and cuts the spinal cord. Arthritis, cancer, inflammation, infections, or disc degeneration of the spine can also cause spinal cord injury. (SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)

NEW SPINAL CORD INJURY THERAPY: The new therapy for spinal cord injuries uses oxygen deprivation in order to trigger molecular changes that excite or awaken the nervous system. The therapy uses acute intermittent hypoxia, which has its roots in sleep apnea studies. People with sleep apnea undergo short periods of oxygen deprivation, which stimulates spinal plasticity -- the ability of the brain and nervous system to respond to experience or injury. Intermittent hypoxia was tested on subjects who had been paralyzed by placing a breathing mask on them that was connected to an air generator that simulates the air at the peak of Mount McKinley then returns the air to normal. Nerve cells associated with voluntary leg strength were stimulated through a 30-minute mild oxygen deprivation session, resulting in improved ankle strength that lasted four hours.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted
you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

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