Clinical applications of electrical stimulation after spinal cord injury

Graham H. Creasey, Chester H. Ho, Ronald J. Triolo, David R. Gater, Anthony F. DiMarco, Kath M. Bogie, Michael W. Keith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


During the last one-half century, electrical stimulation has become clinically significant for improving health and restoring useful function after spinal cord injury. Short-term stimulation can be provided by electrodes on the skin or percutaneous fine wires, but implanted systems are preferable for long-term use. Electrical stimulation of intact lower motor neurons can exercise paralyzed muscles and reverse wasting; improve strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness; and may reduce the progression of osteoporosis. Other potential therapeutic uses being investigated include reduction of spasticity, prevention of deep vein thrombosis, and improvement of tissue health. Pacing of intact phrenic nerves in high tetraplegia can produce effective respiration without mechanical ventilation, allowing improved speech, increased mobility, and increased sense of well-being. Improvement of cough has also been demonstrated. Stimulation of intact sacral nerves can produce effective micturition and reduce urinary tract infection; it can also improve bowel function and erection. It is usually combined with posterior sacral rhizotomy to improve continence and bladder capacity, and the combination has been shown to reduce costs of care. Electroejaculation can now produce semen in most men with spinal cord injury. Significant achievements have also been made in restoring limb function. Useful hand grasp can be provided in C5 and C6 tetraplegia, reducing dependence on adapted equipment and assistants. Standing, assistance with transfers, and walking for short distances can be provided to selected persons with paraplegia, improving their access to objects, places, and opportunities that are inaccessible from a wheelchair. This review summarizes the current state of therapeutic and neuroprosthetic applications of electrical stimulation after spinal cord injury and identifies some future directions of research and clinical and commercial development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-375
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Spinal Cord Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology


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