Recovery of distal arm movements in spinal cord injured patients with a body-machine interface: a proof-of-concept study

Camilla Pierella*, Elisa Galofaro, Alice De Luca, Luca Losio, Simona Gamba, Antonino Massone, Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi, Maura Casadio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The recovery of upper limb mobility and functions is essential for people with cervical spinal cord injuries (cSCI) to maximize independence in daily activities and ensure a successful return to normality. The rehabilitative path should include a thorough neuromotor evaluation and personalized treatments aimed at recovering motor functions. Body-machine interfaces (BoMI) have been proven to be capable of harnessing residual joint motions to control objects like computer cursors and virtual or physical wheelchairs and to promote motor recovery. However, their therapeutic application has still been limited to shoulder movements. Here, we expanded the use of BoMI to promote the whole arm’s mobility, with a special focus on elbow movements. We also developed an instrumented evaluation test and a set of kinematic indicators for assessing residual abilities and recovery. Methods: Five inpatient cSCI subjects (four acute, one chronic) participated in a BoMI treatment complementary to their standard rehabilitative routine. The subjects wore a BoMI with sensors placed on both proximal and distal arm districts and practiced for 5 weeks. The BoMI was programmed to promote symmetry between right and left arms use and the forearms’ mobility while playing games. To evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment, the subjects’ kinematics were recorded while performing an evaluation test that involved functional bilateral arms movements, before, at the end, and three months after training. Results: At the end of the training, all subjects learned to efficiently use the interface despite being compelled by it to engage their most impaired movements. The subjects completed the training with bilateral symmetry in body recruitment, already present at the end of the familiarization, and they increased the forearm activity. The instrumental evaluation confirmed this. The elbow motion’s angular amplitude improved for all subjects, and other kinematic parameters showed a trend towards the normality range. Conclusion: The outcomes are preliminary evidence supporting the efficacy of the proposed BoMI as a rehabilitation tool to be considered for clinical practice. It also suggests an instrumental evaluation protocol and a set of indicators to assess and evaluate motor impairment and recovery in cSCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2243
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2 2021


  • Body-machine interface
  • Motion tracking
  • Motor learning
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Information Systems
  • Instrumentation
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Biochemistry


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