Maintaining Heart Health with Spinal Cord Injury

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Maintaining Heart Health with Spinal Cord Injury

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[1].  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:

Body Weight Support Treadmill Training (BWSTT)

Body Weight Support Treadmill Training Body Weight Support System Propel Physiotherapy Etobicoke

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[2].

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[3]. 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

Functional Electrical Stimulation FES Cycling Spinal Cord Injury Rehabiliation Propel Physiotherapy Etobicoke and Pickering

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[4].

Related story: Adaptive Winter Sports Provide Ways to Enjoy Winter

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).

Adaptive sports spinal cord injury exercise guidelines SCI Action Canada Propel Physiotherapy Etobicoke Physiotherapy Pickering

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.


[1] 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. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Photo Credit

Written by

Kathy Mileski
Kathy MileskiRegistered Physiotherapist and Mindfulness Trainer
Kathy Mileski loves the idea of helping others be as mobile and active as they possibly can. She believes that every person has the potential to do amazing things. That belief bolstered by her training and experience has helped her clients to achieve success in their rehab goals no matter where they are in terms of their recovery.





Therapeutic Yoga Flow Class

March 26 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 12:00pm on Tuesday, repeating until December 24, 2019

This small group therapeutic yoga flow class is ideal for people experiencing persistent health conditions – physical and/or mental, as well as mobility-related challenges.

Balance & Posture Class

March 28 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 11:00am on Thursday, repeating until December 19, 2019

This strengthening class can benefit any person who has issues with balancing themselves when trying to perform activities of daily living like grooming, toileting, walking, and stairs.

By |2019-03-15T20:24:40+00:00February 18th, 2019|General Health & Wellbeing, Spinal Cord Injury|0 Comments