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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Gadget to help paralysed exercise
Image of Sean Roake
Sean Roake said the device has helped him build muscle strength
A gadget that produces electrical signals could help the paralysed to exercise and keep fit.

Tetraplegic Sean Roake increased his muscle strength and cardiopulmonary fitness with three half-hour sessions a week for several months.

"Everyday activities such as wheelchair-to-car transfers are so much easier now," he said.

Engineers from Glasgow's University and Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit developed the device.

I feel extremely positive knowing that I've taken responsibility for improving my health
Sean Roake

It uses small electrodes placed on the skin to deliver pulses of electricity to the paralysed muscles.

These signals replace those that would normally come from the brain via the nerves in healthy people.

A computer can control the strength of the signals sent to suit the needs of the individual.

For example, the electrodes can be placed on the nerves serving the bicep and tricep muscles of the arm so the user is able to work an arm-exercise machine.

Keeping fit

As well as improving muscle strength exercise, it can help keep the person's heart and lungs healthy.

For those with some function in their arms, it can help them become strong enough to perform more day-to-day activities unaided, such as washing and eating.

It's a means of being able to maintain not just physical health but body image
Paul Smith, director of the Spinal Injuries Association

Sean Roake said: "I feel extremely positive knowing that I've taken responsibility for improving my health by exercising regularly using this system."

The engineers who developed the device envisage that it could be used by people who are paralysed by a stroke or brain injury as well as those with spinal injuries.

They hope that a product based on their technology will be available soon - a company is now commercialising the research.

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Body image

Paul Smith, director of the Spinal Injuries Association, said the technique had enormous benefits.

"It is not a cure. But it not only helps with cardiovascular health but can help relieve things like pressure sores because it builds up muscle bulk. "It's a means of being able to maintain not just physical health but body image."

Plus, the individual can take charge of their own fitness rather than relying on others such as physiotherapists.

The Stroke Association estimates that about a third of stroke patients are likely to be left with disabilities and needing rehabilitation.

They said there was growing evidence that functional electrical stimulation such as this could help.

A spokeswoman said: "Although it remains to be seen how much this technology can enhance the quality of life for stroke patients suffering paralysis, the Stroke Association welcomes any new developments or technologies that have this potential."




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