Locomotor capacity of spinal cord in paraplegic patients

  • Dietz V
  • Colombo G
  • Jensen L
 et al. 
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The induction of complex bilateral leg muscle activation combined with coordinated stepping movements is demonstrated in patients with complete paraplegia. This was achieved by partially unloading patients who were on a moving treadmill. In comparison to healthy subjects, the paraplegic patients displayed a less dynamic mode of muscle activation. In all other respects leg muscle electromyographic activity was modulated in a similar manner to that in healthy subjects. However, the level of electromyographic activity in the gastrocnemius (the main antigravity muscle during gait) was considerably lower in the patients. During the course of a daily locomotor training program, the amplitude of gastrocnemius electromyographic activity increased significantly during the stance phase, while inappropriate tibialis anterior activation decreased. Incompletely paraplegic patients benefited from the training with respect to performance of unsupported stepping movements on solid ground. In about half of completely paraplegic patients with low muscle tone, no beneficial effect of the training was seen. This may be due to an inhibitory effect on spinal neuronal activity by drugs patients were taking (e.g., prazosin, clonidine, cannabinoids). In this study intrathecal application of clonidine drastically reduced, while epinephrine enhanced locomotor muscle electromyographic activity. The results of this study promise to be significant in the treatment of paraplegic patients.

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  • V. Dietz

  • G. Colombo

  • L. Jensen

  • L. Baumgartner

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