Spine Injuries Can Disrupt Our Internal Body Clocks

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Daylight savings time or a long flight can leave your internal body clock feeling off, but according to new research, so too can a spine injury. The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and published in the journal eNeuro, is the first study to assess how spinal injuries impact a person’s circadian rhythm.

“People often think of the effects of spinal cord injury in terms of the physical tissue damage itself,” said senior author Linda Watkins, a professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at the Colorado University at Boulder. “The surprising and important finding here is that localized tissue damage fundamentally changes the rhythms of life.”

Previous research has shown that individuals with a spinal cord injury often have trouble regulating their body temperature and experienced inhibited infection immunity, but this study takes our understanding another step forward. Researchers say spinal cord injuries impact our internal body clocks, which impacts things like hormone fluctuation, body temperature, and molecular processes.

Disrupting The Circadian Rhythm

The study, which was conducted on rats, measured a number of bodily functions after a spinal cord injury, including body temperature, activity levels, the levels of stress hormones in the body and the expression of genes that control their circadian rhythm.

“Every single cell in our body has its own molecular clock, including all the machinery required for the body to know what time it is,” said study lead author Andrew Gaudet. “We wanted to know how spinal cord injury impacts the mediators that influence those clocks and the clocks themselves.”

After looking at the results, researchers found that the body processes that control the circadian rhythm were strongly disrupted right after the injury, and they slowly improved over the course of a few weeks. However, this caused major disruptions in sleep ability. Researchers found that one week post injury, circadian rhythms were peaking during sleeping periods rather than an active time during the day. Body temperatures were also higher than normal during normal sleeping periods, making it harder for rats to fall asleep and stay asleep.

“[If these processes] are off-schedule it can make the other clocks run improperly and that can influence a whole host of body processes,” said Gaudet. “This could have implications for recovery.”

The good news is that based on the findings, we may soon be able to adjust our treatment strategies for individuals with spinal cord injuries. Although the findings don’t translate perfectly from rats to humans, it’s worth examining circadian changes in humans after a spinal cord injury. Chronotherapy, which is a treatment aimed at helping individuals with sleep disorders like insomnia, could be a complimentary strategy to help avoid sleep issues following a spinal cord injury.

If back pain is making it hard for your to fall asleep or stay asleep, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi for an assessment.

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