Few events can turn a person’s life upside down quite like suffering a spinal cord injury. Sustaining damage to this part of the body can leave an able-bodied individual without motor control in an instant. Severe spinal injuries involve a lengthy recovery that ultimately may not yield satisfactory results.

At this point, medical professionals have found varying levels of success in offering intense physical therapy shortly after paralysis occurs. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, this can lead to some motor function returning in the lower extremities. However, there is a general perception that treatment hits a wall at two years. In other words, little progress in recovery has been observed past that point.

Not long ago, however, researchers reported exciting new findings in Brain, a medical journal. After placing electrodes near the individual’s spines, some motor functions returned. Patients were able to re-learn how to use muscles in the knees, ankles and toes. The kicker: those involved in this small study suffered spinal cord injuries more than two years prior to treatment. In other words, this study has opened the door to rehabilitation that was once considered impossible.

As is the case with any medical study, cautious optimism should be advised. Even though this treatment was replicated in more than one person, it still involved a very small group of participants.

Even if this type of treatment is found to be successful on a wider scale, physical therapy for spinal cord injury victims is long, exhausting and costly. This aspect of spinal cord injuries isn’t likely to change for the foreseeable future.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Electric stimulation offers new hope for ‘reawakening’ paralyzed limbs,” Melissa Healy, April 8, 2014