Spinal cord injuries are almost always life changing. They affect the body in ways that can be hard for doctors to understand at times. A case in point is low blood pressure. Considered one of the unseen consequences of spinal cord injury-induced paralysis, low blood pressure can make a bad situation worse. But now it appears as though spinal cord stimulation (SCS) could help.
Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy Weatherford, Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine normally recommends as a treatment for chronic neuropathic pain. But truth be told, SCS has been in development for decades. It offers plenty of applications along with an awful lot of potential for researchers to look into.
At least one researcher, a Swiss doctor by the name of Jordan Squair, believes SCS is applicable to spinal cord injuries in terms of solving the low blood pressure issue. He has achieved particularly good results in early tests of his SCS device.
The Basic SCS Principle
The spinal cord is the central highway for the nervous system. It is constantly carrying signals back and forth between the brain and various parts of the body. When those signals are interrupted for any reason, function is also interrupted. The basic principle behind SCS is to stimulate the spinal cord in order to either get signals flowing again or stop them altogether.
According to Lone Star doctors, SCS as a treatment for neuropathic pain is focused on stopping pain signals. Stimulating the spinal cord prevents those signals from reaching the brain. If the signals do not complete their journey, the patient doesn’t experience any pain.
In the case of using SCS to combat low blood pressure, the opposite approach is used. Squair’s SCS device targets neurons in three locations, neurons that are partially responsible for what is known as the baroreceptor reflex.
More About the Reflex
The baroreceptor reflex is a natural reflex that allows the body to compensate when a person changes position. The reflex signals to the brain that position has changed, thereby prompting the brain to make immediate modifications to maintain stable blood pressure. Many people with spinal cord injury lose this reflex.
An SCS device targeting the neurons in question can actually stimulate the baroreceptor reflex. In at least one patient for whom standing for any length of time was difficult, SCS proved to be life changing. After receiving the SCS implant, the woman went from barely being able to stand to walking several hundred yards.
SCS restored her body’s ability to maintain stable blood pressure so that she could walk without feeling faint or weak. According to Squair, the woman has stopped fainting entirely since receiving the SCS implant.
A Lot More We Don’t Know
For his breakthrough research, Squair won the 2023 BioInnovation Institute & Science Prize for Innovation. It is a well-deserved award, but there is still more work to be done. There is still a lot more we don’t know about the spinal cord and its functions. The more we do learn, the more applications we will find for SCS.
In the meantime, Dr. Squair’s main priority is to put the finishing touches on his SCS device so that it’s ready for mass-market release. Once the therapy becomes mainstream, it could offer hope to untold numbers of spinal cord injury patients also dealing with the side effects of low blood pressure.
Could it be that SCS will one day help restore function lost to spinal cord injury? Could permanent paralysis eventually be overcome? No one knows for sure, but SCS offers a lot of promise for a lot of conditions.