Two-years of home based functional electrical stimulation recovers epidermis from atrophy and flattening after years of complete Conus-Cauda Syndrome.Medicine (Baltimore) 2019; 98(52):e18509M
To evaluate progression of skin atrophy during 8 years of complete Conus-Cauda Syndrome and its recovery after 2 years of surface Functional Electrical Stimulation a cohort study was organized and implemented.Functional assessments, tissue biopsies, and follow-up were performed at the Wilhelminenspital, Vienna, Austria; skin histology and immunohistochemistry at the University of Padova, Italy on 13 spinal cord injury persons suffering up to 10 years of complete conus/cauda syndrome. Skin biopsies (n. 52) of both legs were analyzed before and after 2 years of home-based Functional Electrical Stimulation delivered by large anatomically shaped surface electrodes placed on the skin of the anterior thigh. Using quantitative histology we analyzed: 1. Epidermis atrophy by thickness and by area; 2. Skin flattening by computing papillae per mm and Interdigitation Index of dermal-epidermal junctions; 3. Presence of Langerhans cells.Linear regression analyses show that epidermal atrophy and flattening worsen with increasing years post- spinal cord injury and that 2 years of skin electrostimulation by large anatomically shaped electrodes reverses skin changes (pre-functional Electrical Stimulation vs post-functional Electrical Stimulation: thickness 39%, P < .0001; area 41%, P < .0001; papillae n/mm 35%, P < 0.0014; Interdigitation index 11%, P < 0.018), producing a significant recovery to almost normal levels of epidermis thickness and of dermal papillae, with minor changes of Langerhans cells, despite 2 additional years of complete Conus-Cauda Syndrome.In complete Conus-Cauda Syndrome patients, the well documented beneficial effects of 2 years of surface h-b Functional Electrical Stimulation on strength, bulk, and muscle fiber size of thigh muscles are extended to skin, suggesting that electrical stimulation by anatomically shaped electrodes fixed to the skin is also clinically relevant to counteract atrophy and flattening of the stimulated skin. Mechanisms, pros and cons are discussed.