People with spinal cord injuries (SCI) could soon enjoy a better quality of life following the announcement of a study into minimising impairments due to SCI by promoting neural recovery through exercise.
The announcement came yesterday as part of a Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative (VNI) grant worth over $4.6 million to the University of Melbourne.
A national team led by Professor Mary Galea from the University’s School of Physiotherapy will complete a five-year program called ‘SCIPA’ – Spinal Cord Injury & Physical Activity. They were one of four Victorian research groups to receive a grant from the VNI.
While exercise is not a cure for SCI, Prof Galea says the study will have significant implications for how clinicians approach spinal cord rehabilitation.
“Currently, the best practice model for SCI rehabilitation involves strengthening the upper body above the level of injury in order to compensate for the loss of function and maximise independence. However we know that forced inactivity through being in a wheelchair leads to loss of muscle mass and bone density in the paralysed limbs, with secondary complications such as poor circulation, pressure ulcers, fractures, obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, it can make neurological dysfunction worse over time,” said Professor Galea.
Prof Galea says that numerous animal and human studies have shown that exercising the paralysed limbs not only improves circulation and increases muscle mass but also activates the circuitry of the spinal cord below the level of injury.
The research program is aimed at using novel rehabilitation strategies directed at neuromuscular activation below the level of the injury and will involve 7 spinal Units in Australia and New Zealand.
Clinical trials will examine the effectiveness of very early intervention for lower limbs, task-specific training for arms and hands, and an intensive activity-based therapy program for the whole body including the paralysed limbs. Individualised gym programs that can be undertaken in the community after the injured person is discharged from hospital will also be developed, along with a training program for community fitness instructors.
“The focus of the programs will be on promoting neurological recovery, maintaining health and wellness, and optimising independence.”
SOURCE: University of Melbourne