Peripheral nerve re-routing has been around for about 100 years, and has been attempted on hundreds of patients with spinal cord injuries. While it can hardly be considered a “cure,” it has been shown to offer patients with spinal cord injuries various degrees of improvement.
What is peripheral nerve re-routing?
While it sounds fairly technical, it’s actually a relatively easy-to-grasp concept. Let’s begin by defining the peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves are nerves that are located outside of the spinal cord and brain. During the peripheral nerve re-routing procedure, peripheral nerves that are located above the point of injury are surgically re-routed and connected to peripheral nerves below the point of injury. The result? New functional connections between the brain and previously dormant muscle or sensory systems.
To completely understand peripheral nerve re-routing, visualize a house. What would you do if a portion of the master electric cable was damaged, resulting in loss of power to one of the rooms in the house? Well, the best option would be to fix the master electric cable. But let’s say for whatever reason, that repair just isn’t possible. Is there any other way to get power to this room?
There is. You could go around the section of damaged cable by using an extension cord to splice the wires in the room to wires that are working in another part of the house. Peripheral nerve re-routing works the same way. In order to restore power to certain parts of the body, peripheral nerves that have lost their “power” circumvent the damaged area of the spinal cord and draw power from nerves below the point of injury.
Who can potentially benefit from peripheral nerve re-routing? In particular, some patients with C1 through C4 injuries have seen improvement in respiratory function following the procedure, while C5 through C9 patients have experienced improved arm and hand function. Some patients with lower spinal cord injuries have seen improvement in leg function, and some have even been able to walk with the aid of devices following peripheral nerve rerouting.