Scuba Restores Neurological and Psychological Function in Paraplegics

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Many of the stories about the healing power of scuba that stick in the mind have something in common; there’s hard evidence to support them. Some of these are truly remarkable, yet they don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. This is one of those stories.

Dive Trip With a Difference

Five years ago, the Cody Unser First Step Foundation organized a dive trip with a difference for ten wheelchair-dependent participants with spinal cord injuries. On the trip, respected researchers doctors Daniel Becker, M.D., of Kennedy Krieger and Adam Kaplin, M.D., Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins collected data during a PADI Open Water Diver course. Using able-bodied dive buddies as controls, they conducted neurological and psychological tests measuring muscle spasticity, motor control, sensitivity to pinprick and light touch, as well as symptoms found in depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants were assessed before and after the four-day PADI Open Water Diver course.

CodyUnserFoundation-group

Findings

The findings were remarkable. The researchers saw an average 15 percent reduction in muscle spasticity in veterans who went diving, and an average 10 percent increase in sensitivity to light touch and five percent to pinprick. In some individuals the improvement was between 20 and 30 percent. The controls experienced no neurologic changes. Researchers also found an average 15 percent decrease in OCD symptoms and a similar decrease in signs of depression. The most striking impact was seen in PTSD symptoms, which decreased by 80 percent.

“What we saw in the water strongly suggests there is some scuba-facilitated restoration of neurological and psychological function in paraplegics. It’s very provocative,” said Dr. Kaplin.

“We saw dramatic changes in a matter of days in a number of people with spinal cord injury,” echoed Dr. Becker. “This is just a pilot study, but to see such a restoration of neurological function and significant improvement in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over such a short time was unprecedented.”

The doctors hope to conduct a larger randomized study to test the pilot study results, but there’s no news of that yet. “Is there something healing happening under there?” Dr. Becker asked. “There’s a signal, but only by repeating these results and showing significant improvements can we establish that. It’s too early to know for sure.”

Here’s hoping that larger study takes place sooner rather than later.

For more information about Cody Unser, read her inspirational story here.