Social Support Promotes Recovery After Spinal Cord Injury

January 28, 2023

Summary: In one of the studies, in mice, researchers made a surprise finding that social support groups may promote recovery in spinal cord injury patients. In the study, they tested how gabapentin helps during rehab. They discovered that gabapentin did not lower spinal inflammation. Instead, it increased the growth of neurons in the part of the brain associated with better social interaction. They also found that training mice together during rehab resulted in better results, thus underlining the importance of social networks and recovery.

Trauma is the most common cause of spinal cord injury. It often affects young adults, leaving them completely or partially paralyzed. At times, it can also become a cause of sciatica pain. After initial management with medication, a prolonged rehab process begins, including physiotherapy and physical therapy.

Physical or exercise therapy plays a vital role in rehabilitating such patients. However, it is no secret that motivation among people differs. Some are mentally stronger and more willing to participate in physical therapy programs than others, thus making a better recovery. Hence, researchers are always looking for ways to boost motivation in spinal cord injury (SCI) patients, to ensure a faster recovery.

Researchers know that some medications that help reduce pain, anxiety, and fear may help boost patient motivation, thus enhancing rehab outcomes. In one of the studies, researchers were testing the role of the drug gabapentin in rehab compliance when they made an unexpected discovery. They found that mice that did not want to participate in the rehab program or take medications suddenly started exercising when given the group rehab option.

Researchers found that an anti-seizure drug called gabapentin is quite good for managing SCI, as it improves participation in rehab. In the study, researchers found that giving gabapentin to mice motivated them more than a placebo. Thus they are more likely to participate in rehab exercises post-injury.

Researchers think that gabapentin works in multiple ways. First, it seems to protect neurons from further injury and reduce post-injury anxiety. Thus, gabapentin can aid post-injury recovery.

In the study, researchers wanted to develop a better understanding of the way gabapentin works since they noticed that mice are more motivated when given gabapentin. As a result, they are more likely to self-train and thus recover better.

In the study, researchers made multiple interesting findings. First, it seems that gabapentin does not influence spinal cord pain and inflammation much. Instead, gabapentin appears to promote the growth and formation of new neurons in the brain’s hippocampal region, thus resulting in higher motivation1.

Therefore, gabapentin appears to work primarily in two ways. Firstly, promoting the growth of neurons in the brain region plays an important role in motivation. Secondly, gabapentin also reduces anxiety and thus lowers the mental barrier to exercise. Additionally, they found that gabapentin may also help by reducing some post-injury complications.

However, during the experiment, researchers came up with an interesting idea. They thought that since gabapentin is mainly working by boosting motivation, why not try a non-pharmacological way of increasing motivation?

Remarkably, during the study, they also noticed that when mice trained with each other, they were more likely to train longer and better. Additionally, some mice have higher motivation, and they can motivate other mice to start training and thus resulting in better outcomes. This inturn strengthens the connection between rehabilitation and social support.

Researchers say that post-injury, people are more likely to develop anxiety and they are also depressed. Thus, these individuals are less likely to be motivated and participate in the exercise program essential for rehabilitation. However, if patients are given a chance to exercise together, they are more likely to train and recover better. This social bonding can help boost recovery and healing processes.

Hence, researchers recommend that instead of trying to train SCI patients in isolation, it would be a good idea to encourage them to train in groups. This would result in social interactions. Moreover, humans are social beings quite like mice, and thus they can motivate each other to train better.

The Bottom Line

Padda Institute Of Pain Management offers highly specialized treatments for spine injury and sciatica pain management. Schedule an appointment today to get overall relief.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP