Non-Invasive Test Evaluates Muscle Health in Multiple Sclerosis

Novel test demonstrates the benefits of exercise in individuals with neurological injuries and illnesses.

A low-cost, non-invasive test can evaluate the muscle health of individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injuries, and other severe nerve damage, a process only possible with expensive equipment.

Investigators at the University of Georgia developed an accelerometer that can measure increases in muscle endurance—–an indicator of muscle health––after exercise, according to a press release.

The accelerometer is placed on the skin, similar to current technologies found in wearable fitness devices, and uses low-level electronic pulses to mimic brain signals and make muscles move.

The results exceeded the investigators’ expectations. Investigator Kevin McCully, who developed the test with Brad Willingham, said “I’m a real fan of the test. It has a chance to transform the way people study muscles in clinical populations because it’s so simple, easy, and well-tolerated.”

Thus far, the test has already shown results in individuals with MS. The results showed how much exercise can improve overall muscle health, and received the best doctoral poster award from the American College of Sports Medicine last month.

“If we’re giving them therapy, we’re using this to tease out the mechanism of why it’s working,” Willingham said in a press release. “We strongly believe that some benefits of therapy are related to muscle plasticity, or the ability of the muscle to adapt to exercise, and that’s essentially what this test is showing.”

The investigators used a special anti-gravity treadmill and had patients exercise twice weekly for 8 weeks. Using the novel test, the investigators evaluated the increase in patients’ muscle endurance after the workout. The results of the study showed that exercise had a significant increase in muscle health.

To further explore various ways to keep patients active, despite their level of serious nerve damage, the investigators have partnered with the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA.

This non-invasive test is just another tool that can be used to help patients remain independent longer, McCully said in the press release.

“Even if a patient is in a wheelchair, this test shows that exercise will improve their function pretty dramatically,” McCully said. “Brad’s results show this approach works, and his preliminary results with MS patients show tremendous promise to address changes in MS.”