Control systems for function restoration, exercise, fitness and health in spinal cord injury

Hunt, Kenneth James (2005) Control systems for function restoration, exercise, fitness and health in spinal cord injury. DSc thesis, University of Glasgow.

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We describe original research contributions to the engineering development of systems which aim to restore function and enable effective exercise for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). Our work utilises functional electrical stimulation (FES) of paralysed muscle. Improving function and general health through participation in exercise is vital to the enhancement of quality of life, well-being and promotion of longevity. Crucial to the development of this research has been judicious use of advanced methods of feedback control engineering; this has been a key enabling factor in many of our original contributions. The consequences of a spinal cord injury can be severe. The primary effects may include; paralysis and loss of sensation in the legs, arms and trunk; disruption of bladder and bowel function; and disruption of the autonomic regulation of blood pressure, heart rate and lung function. If the abdominal and chest muscles are paralysed, breathing will be compromised, and patients with a high-level cervical injury may require mechanical ventilation. These primary effects of a spinal cord injury may, over time, lead to a range of debilitating secondary medical complications. These include reduced cardiovascular fitness, urinary tract infection and an associated risk of kidney disease, reduced bone mineral density, the possible development of pressure sores, and muscle spasticity. People with paralysed chest and abdominal muscles are at increased risk of respiratory infection. Consideration of these factors has led us to focus our research programme in this field on novel engineering solutions which have relevance to the secondary consequences of spinal cord injury, and which may help to alleviate some of their effects. In this thesis we describe our contributions in the following areas: 1. Control of Paraplegic Standing; This work concerns upright stance, and aims to provide; (i) automatic feedback control of balance during stance, with the arms free for functional tasks; (ii) methods and apparatus for dynamic standing therapy, which may help to enhance the individual's retained balance skills. This area of work has successfully demonstrated the automatic control of balance during quiet standing in paraplegic subjects. Further, we have established the feasibility of ankle stiffness control in paraplegic subjects using FES, and we have shown that this can be combined with volitional upper-body inputs to achieve stable, arm-free balance. 2. Lower-limb Cycling: Lower-limb cycling, achieved through electrical stimulation of paralysed leg-actuating muscles, is an effective exercise intervention. We have described refinements to the engineering design of an FES-cycling system, based upon the adaptation of commercially-available recumbent tricycles (of various designs), some of which are equipped with an auxiliary electric motor. We have contributed new methods of feedback control of key variables including cycle cadence and exercise workrate. These contributions have facilitated further detailed study of the effect of the exercise on cardiopulmonary fitness, bone integrity, spasticity, muscle condition, and factors relating to the likelihood of skin breakdown (i.e. the development of pressure sores). 3. Upper-limb Exercise in Tetraplegia; We have developed a new exercise modality for patients with a cervical-level injury and significant loss of arm function. The system allows effective arm ergometry by combining volitional motion with electrical stimulation of the paralysed upper-arm muscles. This work has developed new apparatus and exercise testing protocols, and has examined the effect of the exercise on cardiopulmonary fitness and muscle strength in experiments with tetraplegic subjects. 4. Modelling and Control of Stimulated Muscle; This fundamental area of research has investigated dynamic modelling and feedback control design approaches for electrically-stimulated muscle. This work has been applied in the three areas mentioned above. We identify promising areas for future research. These include extension of work on lower- limb cycling to patients with incomplete injuries, to those with cervical-level injuries, and to children with SCI. We wish to participate in a multi-centre clinical study of implanted nerve- root stimulation technology for restoration of bladder and bowel control, and for lower-limb exercise (including cycling). We have initiated a study of treadmill-based gait therapy for incomplete-lesion patients. The goals of this study are to develop test protocols for accurate characterisation of cardiopulmonary status, and to determine whether this form of cyclical lower-limb exercise has a positive impact on retained voluntary leg function. It is often the case that it is those people most severely affected by neurological impairment who stand to gain the most from these approaches (e.g. high-level tetraplegia, paediatric spinal cord injury, etc.). We must therefore continue to seek ways in which the work can be developed for the maximum benefit of these patients. In conclusion, this thesis has described original research contributions to the engineering development of systems which aim to restore important function and to enable effective exercise for people with spinal cord injury. An important facet of our work has been the application of feedback control methods; this has been an enabling factor in several areas of study. We have focused on areas which promise improved fitness and general health, and which may alleviate some of the secondary consequences of spinal cord injury. This work encompasses fundamental research, clinical studies, and the pursuit of technology transfer into clinical practice. Finally, we recognise the growing awareness of and interest in central nervous system plasticity, and in the broad field of central neural regeneration and repair. It is therefore timely to ask whether cyclical exercise interventions can lead to improvement of volitional function in patients with incomplete or discomplete lesions. Such improvements may, we speculate, result from the strengthening of muscles which retain at least partial volitional control, or from neural plasticity and re-organisation, or from regeneration effects (neurogenesis and functional connectivity). A key requirement in this line of investigation, and a major challenge, will be to develop or to utilise methods which can detect changes in a patient's volitional function and neurological status, and which can isolate the source of such changes. Should reliable methods become available, the way to the study of recovery of function through cyclical exercise would be opened. These considerations will remain, we propose, an indispensable complement to cell-based surgical interventions which may become available in the future.

Item Type: Thesis (DSc)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 2005
Depositing User: Mrs Monika Milewska-Fiertek
Unique ID: glathesis:2005-30893
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2018 14:17
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2018 14:57
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