Conference Coverage

Conference News Roundup—Association of Academic Physiatrists


Electrical Stimulation Device Improves Motor Function

A person with a spinal cord injury can improve his or her ability to grip and move household objects by using an electrical stimulation device controlled by his or her thoughts, according to researchers. The study suggests that this new technology could one day enhance quality of life among people with disabilities and allow them to live more independently.

People with tetraplegia lose upper-limb strength and dexterity, which has a severe impact on their independence and quality of life. New technology that connects a person’s brain to an implanted functional electrical stimulation orthotics device on the hands could restore manual dexterity and grip strength, thus allowing him or her to perform simple daily tasks like holding a toothbrush without help.

“Individuals with cervical spinal cord injury identify recovery of the use of their hands as the single most impactful way that neurotechnology could change their lives,” said Marcie Bockbrader, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Giving a person back [his or her] hands reduces dependence on others. It makes it possible to do the little things—like cutting food or opening a door—that are so essential to being able to take care of oneself.”

To test how well this thought-controlled brain–computer interface system works in real life to improve hand strength and dexterity, Dr. Bockbrader and her research team surgically implanted one of these devices into the hand of a 26-year-old man with C5-level, nonspastic tetraplegia following a spinal cord injury. He practiced using the device three times per week for four hours each session for more than 1,000 days. The research team administered standardized tests of upper-limb motor ability and functional participation to see how well the system improved his grip strength, quickness, and other basic skills.

Using this device improved the man’s upper-limb motor ability dramatically, according to several standardized tests. He improved his ability to grip and manipulate basic objects, and showed that he could perform ordinary tasks with his hands at the speed and dexterity levels of healthy individuals. He could move objects of different sizes and weights. With practice, he improved his ability to manipulate smaller household objects like a toothbrush or hairbrush. He also demonstrated that he could imagine different hand positions to proportionally adjust and control different hand movements.

“Our study demonstrated that patients with tetraplegia might be able to restore some of their skilled hand function with an implanted device that allows them to control movements with their own thoughts,” said Dr. Bockbrader. “Although this technology must be refined and tested before it can go from the laboratory to the public, it may one day offer people with disabilities a way to live and work more independently, and enable them to perform daily tasks.”

Concussion Recovery Varies Among Children

Not all children follow the same path to concussion recovery, nor do they have the same predictors for returning to normal activity, investigators reported. Their study also suggests that younger children should be considered separately from high-school students.

“Concussions are common among children, yet the literature is limited with regard to understanding trajectory of recovery after concussion, particularly in children with non-sports-related injuries and for younger children,” said Kaitlyn Chin, a second-year medical student at University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine. “We were particularly interested in understanding how activity levels during recovery from concussion influence time to full recovery, to be able to identify modifiable factors to help guide concussion care. Previous studies have noted differences in the amount of time it takes children to recover from a concussion, and our team recently initiated a study to see if we can identify predictors associated with the amount of time between injury and when a child is medically cleared to return to activities which place the child at risk for reinjury.”

Ms. Chin’s team at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore reviewed the medical records of 178 children who were treated for concussions at an academically affiliated, rehabilitation-based clinic. The children had been medically cleared to return to play between September 2015 and February 2017. The children included in the study ranged in age from 6 to 17. A slight majority was younger than 14. Each child’s first visit to the clinic was within 60 days of his or her concussion.

The researchers reviewed each child’s record, noting when they had been approved to return to play. Then they looked at several other factors for each child, including sex, cause of the concussion (ie, sports or non-sports-related), number of symptoms, school attendance, and exercise status at the initial visit to the clinic. Finally, they considered these factors when the children were placed into two categories—children under 14 and children over 14—to examine potential differences related to age.

Ms. Chin’s team found that the number of symptoms affected how quickly all children were cleared to return to play. Fewer symptoms were associated with a faster return to play. For older children, male sex and higher level of exercise during recovery were associated with a faster return to play. For younger children, higher levels of exercise and school participation (eg, attending class and completing homework and tests) were associated with faster return to play.

Overall, this study shows that elementary and middle-school-aged children should be considered separately from high-school-aged students when considering risk factors for prolonged recovery from a concussion. Furthermore, Ms. Chin’s team found that school participation and exercise were not harmful and did not prolong recovery.

“Our study adds to the literature supporting that return to cognitive and safe physical activities while a child is still recovering from concussion does not prolong time to recovery,” said Ms. Chin. “Every child is different, and recovery is different for each concussion. [Therefore], a concussion recovery plan should be tailored for each child, and parents should seek help from the child’s pediatrician or other medical professionals for guiding care after a concussion.”


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