Spinal cord injury (SCI) produces muscle wasting that is especially severe after complete and permanent damage of lower motor neurons, as can occur in complete conus and cauda equina syndrome. Even in this worst-case scenario, mass and function of permanently denervated quadriceps muscle can be rescued by surface functional electrical stimulation using a purpose designed home-based rehabilitation strategy. Early diagnostics is a key factor in the long-term success of this management. Function of quadriceps muscle was quantitated by force measurements. Muscle gross cross-sections were evaluated by quantitative color computed tomography (CT) and muscle and skin biopsies by quantitative histology, electron microscopy, and immunohistochemistry. Two years of treatment that started earlier than 5 years from SCI produced: (a) an increase in cross-sectional area of stimulated muscles; (b) an increase in muscle fiber mean diameter; (c) improvements in ultrastructural organization; and (d) increased force output during electrical stimulation. Improvements are extended to hamstring muscles and skin. Indeed, the cushioning effect provided by recovered tissues is a major clinical benefit. It is our hope that new trials start soon, providing patients the benefits they need.
Keywords: cauda equina syndrome; color computed tomography; functional recovery; home-based functional electrical stimulation; muscle co-activation; permanent denervated human muscle; skin and muscle biopsy.