The effect of early mobilisation for animals with induced spinal cord injury

A study supported by researchers at Loughborough University has found that early mobilisation could improve functional outcomes following a spinal cord injury (SCI).

Professor Vicky Tolfrey worked with researchers from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust on the study published in BMC Neuroscience.

Evaluating the effect of early mobilisation

The optimum time to mobilise (standing, walking) following a SCI is unknown but may have implications for patient outcomes. 

There are no high-quality experimental studies that examine this issue, with a paucity of guidance for clinicians. 

As a result researchers involved in the study looked at pre-clinical studies to evaluate the effect of early compared to no mobilisation on pathophysiological and functional outcomes in animals with induced SCI.

Improving functional outcomes

The study found that mobilisation instigated within 14-days of injury, may be an effective way of improving functional outcomes in animal models following SCI, with delays potentially detrimental to recovery. 

It is hoped that outcomes from this study can support further research in this field to guide future clinical practice.

Professor Tolfrey explained: "Healthcare professionals in the UK often delay mobilisation (sitting, standing) following spinal cord injury due to concerns that early movement may cause further injury or impede recovery.

"Clinical studies have been difficult to undertake in this area due to practical and ethical challenges. This has led to uncertainty and variation in when mobilisation is initiated. This may have implications for patient outcomes and the costs of rehabilitation. 

"Outcomes from this study suggest potential benefits in initiating mobilisation early. Further clinical studies are required to continue to build knowledge in this area and explore the optimum time to initiate mobilisation for maximal patient benefit."

Leading author, PhD part-time student Natalie Gray within the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, explains the impact of her studies: “As a physiotherapist, I am fully aware how important rehabilitation is for people with SCI, and how challenging it can be to make the right decisions when there is so little evidence to guide clinical practice.

"I am pleased to be able to use my PhD to contribute to building knowledge in this area, that will hopefully go on to improve treatments and outcomes for people with SCI in the future.

"I would like to thank the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) and University of Nottingham for funding this project, to research assistant Junaid Nawaz and supervisors Dr Vicky Booth, Dr Alison Cowley, and Prof Vicky Tolfrey for their support and guidance on this collaborative piece of work between Loughborough University and the University of Nottingham."