Electronic Spinal Implant Allows Woman to Walk Again

spinal implant

An electronic spinal implant allows a woman to walk again despite a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that led her to fall every time she tried getting up. Moreover, this incredible system also helped three paralyzed men to regain movement in their legs in the past. The implant is very promising for patients who have neurodegenerative diseases that currently do not have any cure. The results of this implant are in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this case, the patient receiving the implant has a condition called multiple system atrophy Parkinson’s type (MSA-P).

What is Multiple System Atrophy Parkinsonian Type (MSA-P)?

It is a very rare condition that has symptoms like Parkinson’s. However, they cause damage to the nerves in the body, resulting in difficulty in regulating blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating.

The female patient here had one very significant symptom of MSA-P, which was a loss in the sympathetic neurons in her body. It caused a dramatic drop in her blood pressure when she would stand up, also known as orthostatic hypotension. Most of us also feel hypostatic hypotension upon getting up immediately, making us feel lightheaded and dizzy suddenly. But in this case, her nervous system had serious damage to regulate her blood pressure at all. She would immediately blackout when standing which prevented any sort of upright movement.

Electronic Spinal Cord Implant

After a collaboration with different hospitals in Switzerland, the researchers implanted an electronic device directly in the spinal cord that consisted of electrical impulse generators and electrodes. The chip was for treating chronic pain previously but this time doctors inserted it in the woman to detect the changes in her posture to react accordingly. It helped her body in maintaining her blood pressure and instructing the arteries to constrict.

The device was successful, and she was able to stand again after eighteen months of suffering. Moreover, she is also going through physical therapy to regain her ability to walk again.

EFPL Professor of neuroscience and co-author of the paper, Gregoire Courtine said,

“We’ve already seen how this type of therapy can be applied to patients with a spinal-cord injury. But now, we can explore applications in treating deficiencies resulting from neurodegeneration. This is the first time we’ve been able to improve blood-pressure regulation in people suffering from MSA” 

He further added,

“This technology was initially intended for pain relief, not for this kind of application. Going forward, we and our company Onward Medical plan to develop a system targeted specifically to orthostatic hypotension that can help people around the world struggling with this disorder.” 

How Does and Spinal Cord Stimulator Work and What is it?

Spinal cord stimulators comprise electrodes, which are thin wires and a generator that is a small, pacemaker-like battery pack. Doctors place the electrodes in the epidural space, which is between the spinal cord and vertebrae. Moreover, the generator is under the skin. It is mostly close to the abdomen or buttocks. The spinal cord stimulators help in sending electrical impulses through a remote controller whenever they feel pain. The remote control and the antenna are located outside the body.

Although experts are not aware of the exact mechanics behind the stimulation of the spinal cord, they know that it targets multiple groups of muscle. In addition to altering how the brain senses pain. Moreover, the muscles are a direct target.

Traditional Spinal Cord Stimulators

The sensation of pain is replaced after minor tingling in traditional spinal cord stimulators, known as paresthesia. This is uncomfortable for most patients and the newer devices have a ‘sub-perception’ feature that has zero stimulation feeling. Moreover, many devices are placed by highly trained physicians under ultrasound or X-ray guidance.

Use of Spinal Cord Stimulation

It is mostly used for non-surgical pain treatment for those who have failed to provide sufficient relief. They treat and manage the following conditions

  • Back pain that continues even after surgical intervention, for example, failed back surgery syndrome.
  • Pain that happens post-surgery.
  • Inflammation of the arachnoid that is painful, is known as arachnoiditis.
  • Angina that is not treatable by any means.
  • Spinal cord injuries.
  • Diabetic neuropathy, cancer-related neuropathy due to radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery in addition to other nerve-related pain.
  • Regional pain syndrome with complexities.
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Phantom pain after amputation.
  • Perineal and visceral abdominal pain.

Stimulation of the spinal cord can improve the quality of life, and insomnia, and decrease the need to take pain medicines. Doctors use it in combination with other pain medications, exercise, relaxation methods, and physical therapy.

Who Needs a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Your doctor will make sure whether you need a spinal cord stimulator just like any other treatment. It will provide you a drastic relief from chronic pain and improve your lifestyle like the patient mentioned in this article. You will most likely go through imaging tests and screening before the recommendation. Moreover, although most patients can benefit from it, each case is different. However, the ones that benefit the most are those who have not found relief with pain medication or prior surgeries; and those who suffer from psychiatric disorders, decreasing the effectiveness of the procedure.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here