Stimulation Aids Spinal Cord Injury Patients’ Bladder Control

By Steve Barrett
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Five men with spinal cord injuries that impaired the ability to voluntarily urinate gained improved bladder control as well as average quality-of-life improvement of 60 percent after lower-spinal-cord stimulation, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

The men’s injuries took place five to 13 years ago, a news release from UCLA notes.

During weekly, 15-minute sessions over four months, neuroscientists at the university used a magnetic device to stimulate the lower spinal cord through the skin. A similar approach has been used to boost nerve cell function in the brain to address conditions such as depression.

After four sessions, the men saw measurable improvement. Four had significant reductions in the daily frequency with which they had to use a catheter. In addition, average bladder capacity among participants rose from 244 milliliters to 404 milliliters.

The benefit lasted up to four weeks after one participant’s last treatment: He was able to stop catheter use entirely for that period.

“Most spinal cord injuries are not anatomically complete; the spinal cord retains a weak, residual connection with the brain,” Daniel Lu, MD, of UCLA Health, states in the release. “We are restoring bladder function by amplifying these faint signals and enhancing the neural circuits’ ability to respond to them.”

Restoring bladder function is a key priority for people with spinal cord injuries, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Neurotrauma.