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Sports Medicine Channel
Reported December 21, 2012

Brian's Breakthrough: Repairing Paralyzed Nerves--Research Summary

BACKGROUND:   Paralysis is the loss of muscle function in part of your body.  It can be complete or partial, meaning it can affect one side or both sides of the body.  It happens when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between the brain and muscles.  Paraplegia is paralysis on the lower half of the body and quadriplegia occurs on the upper part of the body.  Most paralysis is a result of a spinal cord injury or a stroke. (Source:  nlm.nih.gov)

RISK FACTORS:  While most paralysis is caused by injuries or strokes, other causes are prevalent.  They include:  nerve diseases (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), autoimmune diseases (Guillain-Barre syndrome), and Bell’s palsy (affects muscles in the face).  Polio used to cause paralysis as well, but it is no longer present in the U.S.  Most paralysis is caused by nervous system damage for one reason or the other, but other forms like sleep paralysis is also there.  Sleep paralysis consists of a period of inability to perform voluntary movements when falling asleep or waking up. (Source: standford.edu)

TREATMENT:  There is no cure for permanent paralysis.  Treatment is meant to help a person adapt to life with paralysis.  Also, treatment aims at addressing health problems.  Treatment options include mobility aids (electric or manual wheelchairs).  As an alternate to wheelchairs, orthoses is available.  Orthoses are braces made of plastic or metal to help improve function of a limb.  Neuroprosthesis is a newer type of orthosis.  It is based on a technique called functional electrical stimulation.  It uses electrodes to deliver currents to muscles that can stimulate the muscles. (Source: www.nhs.uk)

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  For those who have nerve damage that results in paralysis in a specific region of the body, surgery is available.  After nerve injury it will try to repair itself by growing regenerating nerve units.  These units will then try to grow down the nerve to restore nerves to muscles.  If the connection is made, then recovery will start.  If there is no evidence of recovery in three to six months, then surgery is recommended.  There are several types:  nerve repair, nerve graft, nerve transfer, or neurolysis.  Nerve transfer is a ground breaking surgery that is helping the paralyzed and stroke patients regain the use of limbs. (Source:  surgerydept.wustl.edu)  Nerve transfer uses functioning nerves that are close to the target muscle and the nerves are then transferred to the injured nerve.  Before surgery is performed, doctors will take an x-ray.  The x-ray will show the affected area.  Sometimes the nerve may seem dead, but actually is not.  Scar tissue can form around the nerve and the nerve can become impacted making it seem like the nerve is dead.  Another ground breaking surgery that is relatively unknown can be performed to cut the scar tissue away little by little to free the nerve.

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