Depending upon the severity and location of the spinal cord injury will determine the severity of medical problems suffered by the patient, from a slight loss of sensation all the way up to breathing problems and complete paralysis. Many patients commonly suffer breathing problems where the nerves have been damaged that help regulate breathing and many require supplemental oxygen just to be able to breathe. However even in spinal cord patients who suffer difficulty in just walking; low level oxygen treatment may be the answer to helping them to regain their walking ability. Nearly two-thirds of all spinal cord injuries are known as in-complete, in that they haven’t been totally severed and some nerve endings are still intact.
There is a loss of function but it is not completely lost, someone may be able to walk but not in the same way as they used to and may rely on crutches, canes or wheelchairs to get around. Low level (hypoxia) oxygen treatment causes the release of serotonin which is a brain chemical that helps to transmit the messages from one nerve cell to another. It also causes the release of a growth factor that is known to help to repair nerves.
In a study last year spinal cord patients with limited ability were divided into two groups; one group received oxygen therapy and the other a placebo. The hypoxia treatment involved subjects breathing low oxygen levels through a mask for 90 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of normal oxygen levels, and they were required to do this for 40 minutes a day for 5 days. It was shown that the group on low level oxygen therapy walked an average of 3.8 seconds faster, compared with when they breathed only normal oxygen levels. On a test of how far subjects could walk in 6 minutes, those who received the hypoxia treatment increased their endurance by an average of 100 meters – a 250% increase, compared with those who received the placebo. This illustrates oxygen’s versatility of being medically important in treating patients both at high and low levels.