Individuals with spinal cord injuries can often benefit from reduced pain and a better quality of life with the assistance of modern technology. Advancements in applied medical science have provided a wide range of equipment that can now offer accurate diagnostics, enhanced rehabilitation and assist in ways to increase mobility.
On a daily basis, the application of technology in the rehabilitation process is directly assisting individuals with varying levels of paralysis to increase mobility in their arms and legs, as well as helping to reduce internal complications such as decreased bladder control.
Below are examples of three areas in which technology has proven to be effective in improving the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of individuals with a spinal cord injury:
1. Technologically Advanced Diagnostic Equipment
Patients who arrive at the hospital with potentially serious injuries need to be fully tested to establish the full extent of their situation. An accurate diagnosis is crucial in order for the patient to receive the most effective care and treatment. Advances in technology now mean that spinal cord injuries can be ruled out or confirmed using scans and specialist imaging equipment.
These tests could include:
Most patients will undergo a series of X-rays during their initial diagnosis. The results can give an indication of damage to the vertebrae including fractures or degenerative changes in the spine.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
A CT scan can provide further details in respect of any abnormalities that may have been picked up by the initial x-ray results. Using computer-generated imaging, the doctor can examine a series of cross-sectional images to identify problems and further define any damage that may have occurred.
A Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) Scan
Using a magnetic field and radio waves, an MRI scan will produce a series of computer-generated images that offer a high level of information for medical professionals to decipher. Herniated disks, blood clots or masses are often identified using an MRI scan.
2. Treatment And Rehabilitation
Whilst there is currently no definitive cure for patients who have become paralyzed as a result of a severe spinal cord injury, advancements in technology continue to aid mobility, reduce pain and increase the quality of life for the individual in question.
Epidural Stimulation is arguably the most advanced treatment currently available and is a great example of how advances in technology can allow for significant progress to be made by individuals with conditions that were previously deemed to be untreatable.
The procedure involves the continuous application of an electrical current to the lower part of the spinal cord via a small device implanted over the protective coating of the spinal cord. Individuals who have received this treatment have been able to once again voluntarily move their limbs following a specialized rehabilitation programme which is integral to the overall procedure.
3. Assistive Technology
All types of equipment from specialized bath chairs and transfer benches to assist with personal hygiene, bespoke eating utensils and even zippers with pull rings have been designed to help individuals with spinal cord injuries complete routine daily tasks with more ease.
Wheelchairs are essential for many individuals with a spinal cord injury, and most modern-day chairs are ergonomically designed to increase comfort. Many also are powered by electric motors that are controlled by gyroscopes for ease of movement, as well as the use of pressure mapping technology to prevent pressure sores and ulcers for patients who remain in the same position for long periods of time.
Furthermore, equipment such as exoskeletons has been designed to assist individuals with paralysis. Using gyroscopes, trajectory sensors and torque sensors, as well as a lightweight titanium frame, the user or their “trainer” can push buttons to initiate a walking sequence.
Technology For The Future
Without the aid of digital imaging, computer-aided design, digital sensors and a wealth of other technological tools, the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries to the spine wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is today.
With on-going research and development taking place, the long-term prognosis for those with a spinal cord injury continues to improve. The road to recovery following a serious injury to the spine is certainly challenging, but thanks to advancements in technology, there are increasingly more options available for treatment, rehabilitation, and after-care.