Transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tSCS) is a promising intervention that can benefit spasticity control and augment voluntary movement in spinal cord injury (SCI) and multiple sclerosis. Current applications require expert knowledge and rely on the thorough visual analysis of electromyographic (EMG) responses from lower-limb muscles to optimize attainable treatment effects. Here, we devised an automated tSCS setup by combining an electrode array placed over low-thoracic to mid-lumbar vertebrae, synchronized EMG recordings, and a self-operating stimulation protocol to systematically test various stimulation sites and amplitudes. A built-in calibration procedure classifies the evoked responses as reflexes or direct motor responses and identifies stimulation thresholds as recommendations for tSCS therapy. We tested our setup in 15 individuals (five neurologically intact, five SCI, and five Parkinson’s disease) and validated the results against blinded ratings from two clinical experts. Congruent results were obtained in 13 cases for electrode positions and in eight for tSCS amplitudes, with deviations of a maximum of one position and 5 to 10 mA in amplitude in the remaining cases. Despite these minor deviations, the calibration found clinically suitable tSCS settings in 13 individuals. In the remaining two cases, the automatic setup and both experts agreed that no reflex responses could be detected. The presented technological developments may facilitate the dissemination of tSCS into non-academic environments and broaden its use for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
Published: Nov 2021