There has been a lot of growing excitement in the physiotherapy world recently following the news that a man previously paralysed from the waist down has been able to walk again after pioneering surgery using regrown cells, giving hope to millions of other people who have sustained spinal cord injuries.
Darek Fidyka, a 38 year old from Poland, had been completely paralysed from the waist down in 2010. Following surgery and intensive rehabilitation Mr Fidyka is able to walk short distances with a frame and has also regained some sensation below his level of injury.
The surgery was performed by a Polish team of doctors and involved removing OEC cells (Olfactory Ensheathing Cells) from the patient’s nose and transplanting them into either side of the damaged spinal cord.
OECs have been shown to assist in the repair of damaged nerves – once transplanted into the spinal cord, they are thought to enable the damaged ends of the cord to grow together and join again enabling signals through from the brain to the muscles.
This astonishing break through is thought to be the first of its kind worldwide
Following surgery Mr Fidyka has undertaken an intensive exercise programme for five hours per day, five days a week and first noticed improvement after about three months. Six months after surgery he was able to take his first steps using parallel bars with the support of physiotherapists and leg braces.
From my perspective as a neurological physiotherapist this is such an exciting breakthrough – one I thought I’d never see. I worked for two years at an International Spinal Injuries rehabilitation unit in Aylesbury, so have a lot of experience working with spinal cord injured patients.
Following a spinal cord injury a patient will need a lot of physiotherapy to help them to live as independent a life as possible. Every spinal cord injury is unique and depending on a patient’s set of circumstances, as physiotherapists, we may help them to strengthen muscle groups, maintain their joint range of movement, improve their balance and maximise their functional ability as well as encourage fun leisure activities.
Physiotherapy techniques used may include: soft tissue stretching, graded muscle exercises, mobilisation techniques, postural correction, use of SaeboFlex rehabilitation equipment, gait re-education (if sufficient muscle activity), and equipment advice.
I spoke to Dan Burden, Head of Public Affairs for the Spinal Injuries Association, who is himself spinal cord injured following an accident 13 years ago, to ask him is thoughts on this latest medial breakthrough.
“This is a great step forward and I understand the excitement around the fact that the patient is able to walk. However, it’s the other improvements that haven’t been given as much air time, which are more relevant to people living with spinal cord injury, such as the recovery of sensation in the bowel and bladder as well as some sexual function.”
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Find out more about the neurological physiotherapy services that Physio-Life provides.
Read about Dan Burden's trials and tribulations in his funny blog www.wordofburd.com