NEW research on spinal injuries has found that rehabilitation should include the mind as well as the body.

Rates of recovery could potentially be increased if training in spatial awareness is given, according to the study led by Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

The team discovered that spinal injuries can affect an individual’s perception of the space before them and their reach – even if their upper body is unaffected by their injury.

This distortion can affect a “multitude of everyday tasks ranging from lifting a cup of tea and eating, to daily self-care,” study leader and assistant professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt, Dr Anna Sedda, explained.

“At present, approximately 25% of those with spinal cord lesions who have retained sensory function fail to regain the use of their lower limbs and we don’t yet know why this is,” she said.

“By delivering mind rehabilitation, in partnership with physical rehabilitation, we believe we could improve the outcomes for these specific individuals, potentially allowing them to regain movement in their lower limbs.”

The research team, which included experts based in Switzerland, Italy, and the UK, say their results could help charities, the NHS and other organisations supporting people living with paraplegia, and give insights into how their houses should be adapted.

Sedda said: “By comparing the results of individuals with paraplegia and individuals of the same age who have no spinal cord injury in computerised tasks, we found that patients with paraplegia do not overestimate the space they can reach with their hands, as one would normally do given our ability to push a bit further using our torso.

“They also show more variability in spatial judgements which are not helped by having the target objects moved nearer to them.

“The findings suggest that individuals with paraplegia do not make use of an object’s properties that are related to the subsequent action, and that this difference in perception is related to the everyday experience of using their body differently after the injury.”