Although many car accident injuries have the potential to cause life-changing consequences, some of the most severe injuries are those to a person's spinal cord. The spinal cord is the long bundle of nerves that runs through a person's back, and is responsible for sending signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Consequently, traumatic injuries to a person's spinal cord, such as those suffered in a car accident, can result in loss of motor function, bodily control, or degrees of paralysis. However, advances in medical science are happening all the time, and many of these new treatments show promise for mitigating or even reversing the effects of a spinal cord injury.
Functional electrical stimulation is a medical treatment for people suffering from paralysis after a spinal cord injury. The principle behind the treatment is that the electrical signals from a person's brain can no longer reach certain parts of their body, so carefully calibrated electrical stimulation is applied directly to a person's extremities in order to help them regain control over the parts of their body that their brain can no longer reach. These treatments show promise in helping people suffering from paralysis regain some ability to walk, stand, and grasp things, as well as take better control of basic bodily functions.
Robotic gait training is an alternative rehabilitation option for people suffering from limited mobility following a spinal cord injury. Robotic gait training uses machine-assisted learning to help people recover their ability to walk by retraining their legs in the proper stepping motions. The patient is placed in a mechanical exoskeleton that lets patients practice their gait, and then analyzes the way they walk to help them improve. Additionally, many of the machines are fitted with special counterweights to make it easier for patients going through rehab to stand on their own without having to support their full weight.
Another possible new treatment for spine injury patients with limited mobility involves treating them with low-oxygen air. This treatment, known as hypoxia treatment, has shown some ability to increase endurance in patients who still retain some ability to walk after their accident. Although the exact mechanism through which the treatment works is still unknown, some doctors theorize that the lack of oxygen stimulates the release of certain chemicals in the spine that help improve endurance.
The ultimate goal of many doctors researching new spinal treatments is nerve regeneration, the ability to actually regrow or repair damaged spinal cord tissue. At present, the treatment is still out of reach for spinal cord injuries given the complexity of the tissue, but there are new discoveries being made in this area all the time. For instance, researchers have recently found another enzyme that people's own bodies use to trigger nerve growth. Over time, such a chemical could be used to develop a treatment that actually heals damaged nerves.