Electrical Stimulation of Neck Skin Improves Hand Function

Achievement date: 

The Center for Neurotechnology (CNT), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at the University of Washington (UW), and industry partner NeuroRecovery Technologies (NRT), a medical device company, have demonstrated that electrical stimulation delivered to the skin surface at the neck resulted in lasting improvement to hand function after spinal cord injury.


A successful trial of the therapy developed in this work, combined with physical therapy, demonstrate restoration and improvement of motor function after neurological injury through non-invasive means. The persistence of hand function improvements after halting stimulation is evidence of engineered neuroplasticity, successfully guiding the brain and nervous system to make new connections through technology.


NRT is a medical device company with a mission to develop targeted devices that restore function and movement in patients with paralysis and spinal cord injury. Chet Moritz, CNT co-director and physical therapy professor at UW, partnered with the company to demonstrate the breakthrough electrical stimulation therapy. Electrodes were placed on the skin at the neck to recover hand function through transcutaneous spinal stimulation.

In addition to being an effective treatment, the non-invasive technique demonstrated in this work has several advantages over the contemporary therapies. The effects of transcutaneous spinal stimulation are similar to those of epidural implants, but the absence of surgery makes the treatment safer, cheaper, less painful, and more accessible.