Toronto (Dec. 26, 2000) - Studies show that people with spinal cord injuries lose up to one-third of their bone density within a year of injury or onset of illness. That’s equivalent to the bone loss experienced by women over a 10-year period starting at menopause.

Researchers at Toronto Rehab's Bone Density Lab are leading the way in trying to find answers to the many questions related to bone health in people with neurological impairments such as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, stroke or acquired brain injury.

People living with spinal cord injuries break their thighbone so often the injury has become known as the "paraplegic fracture." Dr. Cathy Craven, head of Toronto Rehab's Bone Health Program at the Lyndhurst Centre said, "They (people with spinal cord injuries) can break their bones very easily and often, even as a result of a well-intentioned hug, a strenuous cough, rolling over in bed, or getting in or out of a wheelchair." For people with spinal cord injuries and other neurological impairments, osteoporosis leaves them highly susceptible to fractures that are slow to heal or don’t heal at all.

"We are better able to meet the needs of these patients because our lab has been designed and developed to accommodate this patient population," says Dr. Craven. The lab is wheelchair accessible, equipped with a motorized lift, and run by specialists trained and experienced in the care and rehabilitation of individuals with limited mobility, especially persons with spinal cord injuries.

Dr. Craven and her colleagues are studying how to prevent osteoporosis among people who have just experienced a spinal cord injury. "Within 30 days of injury, we’re giving people a medication called risedronate to try and turn off the bone loss before it occurs," explains Dr. Craven. "This is very exciting because it’s the first large, multi-centre trial to be conducted." Participants are from the Toronto and Hamilton areas; the trial should be concluded by the Spring of 2002.

As part of the comprehensive Bone Health Program, a Bone Density Lab opened in the summer of 2000 at Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst Centre. Using a state-of-the-art densitometer, bone density can be measured quickly, accurately and painlessly. "We're providing a high-quality, accessible, consumer-friendly service for what I perceive to be an underserviced segment of the osteoporosis population," says Dr. Craven.

While most labs measure bone density at the hip and lower spine, Dr. Craven has developed a measure for bone density around the knee; patients also can be tested at the wrist.

Dr. Craven said, "When the central nervous system is injured, it somehow triggers a series of events that weaken bones over time…we are looking into ways to eliminate or minimize bone loss, which will lead to a better quality of life for our patients."

The Toronto Rehabilitation Institute is a fully affiliated teaching hospital of the University of Toronto specializing in cardiac, geriatric, musculoskeletal, neuro and spinal cord rehabilitation, and complex continuing care. Toronto Rehab's spinal cord rehabilitation program - the largest in the country - is located at Lyndhurst Centre, one of the hospital's five sites.

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