Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology

Author's Keywords

Spinal Cord Injury; Functional Recovery; Immobilization; Behavioral Assessments; SCI Models


Recovery, or rather the failure to recover, is a perplexing issue of spinal cord injury that is currently being investigated. This issue becomes more puzzling when investigating models in which spinal cord injury (SCI) is studied. There appears to be greater functional recovery experienced by animals within these models after injury as compared to patients in the clinical setting. While many things could contribute to this disparity, one difference that stands out when comparing the basic research model and clinical experience of SCI is the inactivity and limb disuse after the injury. This same level of immobility is rarely accounted for in the basic research setting. In contrast, animals often spend their first moments after injury engaging in locomotion while exploring their new surroundings. In this study, I investigated the effect of acute immobilization, via hindlimb casting, immediately after injury on the progression and overall degree of functional recovery. I tested this through well-known behavioral assessments that aim to quantify outcomes like locomotor coordination, as well as hypersensitivity to thermal and mechanical stimuli. I predicted that immobilization would produce deficits in functional recovery and that nociceptive hypersensitivity would accompany it. Results from this study do not suggest immobilization causes a deficit in functional recovery but rather delays functional recovery. Therefore, this study does not support the original hypothesis but recommends further study into immobility’s effect of delaying functional recovery.

Lay Summary

Recovery, or lack thereof, is a subject which is important to spinal cord injury in both the basic lab and clinical setting. In current models of study, animals seem to consistently achieve a greater degree of recovery—especially as that recovery relates to their everyday functions. One possible explanation for this can be found in what the patients experience after injury or surgery. The animal often spends time moving and discovering its environment, while the human is often restrained, literally or by methods like bed rest, out of fear of reinjury. This study looks to see if there are any changes in behavior that would suggest that this inactivity could be preventing successful recovery. The results, while some inconclusive, point to a relationship between immobilization and the recovery of locomotion and bladder control but not as originally assumed. These results show that a small degree of immobilization, immediately after injury, can delay the timeframe in which someone regains the amount of function seen in pre-clinical studies.