Laufband locomotion with body weight support improved walking in persons with severe spinal cord injuries

Paraplegia. 1992 Apr;30(4):229-38. doi: 10.1038/sc.1992.61.


After low transection of the spinal cord mammalian quadrupeds can be trained to walk on a driven surface indicating that coordinating neuronal circuits persist in the spinal cord segments caudal to the lesion. We trained 8 persons with incomplete spinal cord lesion on a Laufband (driven treadmill) for 1 1/2 to 7 months (5 days a week, 30-60 minutes daily) starting 5 to 20 months after injury and found significant improvement in the utilisation of the paralysed limbs during locomotion. Locomotion is described in one additional patient who had trained independently on parallel bars for several years. Five patients had complete functional paralysis in one lower limb when tested in a resting position. In EMG recordings voluntary activity (ie activity induced upon command) was absent or residual in the main flexor and extensor muscles of this limb. In contrast, during locomotion flexion and extension movements were performed and phasic EMG activity was present. In these 5 patients, and in all others reported here, skin sensibility and proprioception are preserved to different degrees in all limbs. In the course of locomotive training of 4 severely paralysed patients the initially habituating flexion reflexes could be entrained in the paralysed limbs as was the case for knee extension during stance. Subsequently, initial body weight support (BWS) of 40% could be reduced to 0%. The distance covered on the Laufband (0-104 m in the first week) increased significantly (200-410 m) in the last week of training as did speed (0-10 to 14-23 m/min). More importantly, this training subsequently allowed patients to walk on a static surface for 100 to 200 meters while voluntary activity remained absent in the paralysed limb when tested at rest. Similar progress was achieved in the 4 less severely paralysed patients. The one patient who had trained independently on parallel bars for several years is described walking on a static surface for 40 meters with the help of a walker, though he had one completely and one near completely paralysed lower limb. It appears that bipedal stepping with consequent knee extension and stabilisation can be taught after unilateral complete or near complete loss of voluntary activity, suggesting the manifestation of complex reflex motor patterns at the spinal level.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraplegia / therapy*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Walking*