Most spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur in individuals under 30 years of age. This, along with medical advancements have allowed people with SCI to have an increased life expectancy compared with past generations. Those with SCI are consequently susceptible to the same chronic diseases as the general population, including cardiovascular disease.
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality in persons with SCI. While some of the same barriers exist to exercise, such as motivation or finding time for exercise, people with spinal cord injuries have additional challenges such as inaccessible equipment, and challenges with heart and blood pressure regulation.
Accessible Equipment and Heart Healthy Therapies
At Propel Physiotherapy, we offer highly trained and experienced therapists as well as an expansive selection of equipment to help people with SCI maintain their cardiovascular health, including:
The body weight support treadmill training (BWSTT) is a harness and treadmill system that helps to facilitate components of walking. The amount of unloading and loading can be adjusted, as well as allowing a therapist to help with stepping depending on the client’s abilities. Treadmill training allows individuals with SCI to exercise at a level that maximizes their cardiovascular benefits. Evidence suggests that people with spinal cord injury who participate in meaningful levels of body weight supported treadmill training can improve other areas of heart health including blood flow, oxygen uptake, heart rate, and heart beat regulation.
Arm Cycle Ergometry
Arm cycle ergometry is a great exercise option for people with SCI. Research suggests that arm cycle ergometry performed at a moderate to vigorous intensity, 3 times a week for 6 weeks can improve cardiovascular fitness in persons with SCI. At Propel Physiotherapy, our experienced therapists can properly assess and develop a program, as well as develop any necessary modifications to help individuals maximize their aerobic capacity through arm cycling.
Functional electrical stimulation is a modality that uses an electric current to stimulate muscle contraction in a weak or paralyzed muscle. The contraction is combined with a functional activity where the targeted muscle is activated. There is growing evidence to support that FES training performed 3 days a week for 8 weeks may be effective for improving muscle skeletal fitness, exercise tolerance and cardiovascular fitness.
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According to SCI Action Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines:
For cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength benefits, adults with a SCI should engage in at least 20 min of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 2 times per week AND 3 sets of strength exercises for each major functioning muscle group, at a moderate to vigorous intensity, 2 times per week (strong recommendation). For cardiometabolic health benefits, adults with a SCI are suggested to engage in at least 30 min of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3 times per week (conditional recommendation).
A spinal cord injury should not limit a person’s ability to exercise. There is growing evidence of the widespread benefits of maintaining physical activity in this population. Propel Physiotherapy offers state of the art equipment to help individuals meet all their rehab needs. Let our experienced and skilled therapists help you find ways to maintain physical activity and maintain a healthy heart.
 Warburton DER, Krassioukov A, Sproule S, Eng JJ (2018). Cardiovascular Health and Exercise Following Spinal Cord Injury. In Eng JJ, Teasell RW, Miller WC, Wolfe DL, Townson AF, Hsieh JTC, Connolly SJ, Noonan VK, Loh E, Sproule S, McIntyre A, Querée M, editors. Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Evidence. Version 6.0. Vancouver: p 1- 68.
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