Spinal Injury & the Reeves Boogie

tripleu at telis.org tripleu at telis.org
Thu Jul 31 21:41:29 EST 1997


Spinal Injury and the Reeves Boogie

The "Reeves boogie" is a very strange and interesting thing.  Here's a
man who is quadriplegic, which means that he couldn't move his arms and
legs even if he wanted too.  But then, every so often his legs get up the
inclination to move for a few moments of their own accord.  This kind of
involuntary dance is very strange, to say the least.

It's not like epilepsy convulsions, where a person becomes unconscious,
falls to the ground, and goes into convulsions. That's a form of
involuntary break- dancing.  But Mr. Reeves remains fully conscious,
while his legs somehow decide to dance a little jig, apparently without
asking Mr. Reeves for permission. So, in Christopher Reeves, we have a
man who cannot ask his legs to move. But they move anyway, when they feel
like it.

If his brain asks his legs to move, they either ignore him or refuse to
cooperate. Perhaps his legs never hear the message from his brain.  Or,
at least, this is our normal assumption when any severe injury precedes
quadriplegia.

An electrical cord that's cut, for example, stops all electricity from
passing through. Like an electrical cord, when the spinal cord which
normally allows messages to pass from the brain to the arms and legs is
cut and severed, it no longer allows any messages to pass through.

After a wire has been cut, a patch from one wire to the other is needed
so that electricity can pass through again.  But alas, we don't know how
to do this with the spinal cord.  So we explain to Mr. Reeves and
patients like him that they just have to wait until the spinal cord grows
back together of its own accord.

Spinal cords grow very slowly.	So we can't promise a patient whether it
will be one year or twenty by the time their severed spinal cord
regenerates enough to allow signals through.  Research centers are
working on ways to help the body regenerate the spinal cord and
associated nerves faster.  But, that research is years from being
completed. And in the meantime, patients are suffering.

With Mr. Reeves, however, we have a different situation.  His legs move;
they just don't move on command.  Nerve and spinal cord messages are
getting through somehow, under some conditions, but not under Reeves'
conscious control.  It actually seems like the messages are traveling in
reverse.

It's like the legs are saying to the brain:

"Hey, we need to move down here."

But the brain doesn't respond.	It ignores the legs.  And the legs keep
on calling.

"Hey, we need to move down here.  We have too much energy, too many
calories.  We need to move down here."

The brain doesn't respond.  It continues to ignore the legs.  And the
legs keep on calling.  They send messages to the brain faster and faster,
getting more desperate with every second.

"Hey, we need to move down here."

"Hey, we need to move down here!"

"Hey, we need to move down here!!"

And finally, the brain says, "OK! Then move!"

And the legs, which have been calling for a long time, finally burst into
the Reeves' boogie.

If this is the case, then nerve messages are passing from the legs to the
brain. The brain is just not responding for some reason.  But the
messages are getting through.  That means that the spinal cord is NOT cut
or severed.  It works in at least one direction, from the legs to the
brain.	And once in awhile, when the signals get powerful enough or
plentiful enough, the brain sends a one-time approval for leg movement. 
And the dance begins.

This means that Reeves should not have to wait twenty years for his
spinal cord to regrow.	It was never totally disconnected in the first
place.	He only has to figure out why his brain is not listening and
responding appropriately to incoming messages.

The first suspect would be one of the brain biochemicals, like dopamine,
epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  The lack of adequate dopamine, for
example, affects movement in diseases like Parkinson's.  Parkinson's
patients eventually lose the ability or the will to move.  They may
eventually end up wheelchair bound in a nursing home or other
institution, in a movement-less state. (This was demonstrated in the
Oliver Sacks' book and movie "Awakenings".)

My personal web site discusses diseases like Parkinson's, which involve
dopamine and other important brain biochemicals. (entitled "Unsolved
Mystery Diseases") It discusses 9 mechanisms of disease, one of which
directly involves these biochemicals.

Come visit sometime at www.geocities.com/~keanderson

Katherine E. Anderson
www.geocities.com/~keanderson
tripleu at telis.org

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