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Spinal Cord. 1998 Jun;36(6):380-90.

Locomotor pattern in paraplegic patients: training effects and recovery of spinal cord function.

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Paraplegic Centre, University Hospital Balgrist, Zurich, Switzerland.


Recent studies have shown that a locomotor pattern can be induced and utilized by paraplegic patients under conditions of body unloading using a moving treadmill. The present study investigated the behaviour of the locomotor pattern and also the relationship of its development to the spontaneous recovery of spinal cord function assessed by clinical and electrophysiological (tibial nerve somatosensory evoked potentials and motor evoked potentials) examinations. The earliest time that spinal locomotor activity could be induced was when signs of spinal shock had disappeared. This activity was distinct from spinal stretch reflex activity. In complete paraplegic patients the locomotor pattern improved spontaneously without training. This was coincident with both an increase of gastrocnemius electromyographic activity during the stance phase of gait and a decrease of body unloading. These effects reached a plateau after about 5 weeks. In complete and incomplete paraplegic patients a near linear increase of gastrocnemius electromyographic activity occurred during the stance phase of a step cycle with daily locomotor training over the whole training period of 12 weeks. This was also coincident with a significant decrease of body unloading. In contrast to this, neither clinical nor electrophysiological examination scores improved after the onset of training in both patient groups. Only in incomplete paraplegic patients was there recovery, albeit statistically insignificant, of spinal cord function according to the sensory and motor scores obtained in the neurological examination during the time period before onset of training. An improvement of locomotor function by training was also seen in patients with paraplegia due to a cauda lesion. Such training effects on muscles and tendons could be separated from those on the spinal locomotor centres. The findings of this study may be relevant for the future clinical treatment of paraplegic patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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