Anyone who has suffered a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) understands, life can change in an instant. For those that suffer a SCI the seemingly effortless task to maintain a lifestyle – becomes a challenge to overcome the struggles of learning how to move your body in different patterns to exist. One task that seems to strike individuals living with SCI as particularly difficult, is the ability to exercise in a way that makes you feel like yourself again. As research in the field of SCI continues to develop, there is an increasing quantity of empirical evidence that demonstrates functional exercise appears to be the most beneficial form of rehabilitation for a multitude of reasons.
One reason for functional exercise being one of the most beneficial forms of therapy is the direct link to the brain and how it utilizes our innate ability to harness neuroplasticity. The most obvious improvement that comes from exercise therapy is the direct increases of strength output in the paralyzed muscles, but it also “promotes motor function recovery, brain remodeling, improves spinal microenvironment and protects damaged distal motor neuron functions at multiple levels.”(Fu, Wang, Deng, and Li; 2016, pg. 1). In layman’s terms, exercise therapy allows your body to remap the layout of the brain to accommodate for the loss of function, in addition to the regeneration of lost function. Additionally, exercise therapy permits the body to promote blood flow to areas that may not have had adequate blood flow, specifically the spinal column and paralyzed muscles. The increase in blood to those areas that were previously lacking oxygen and nutrients provide the correct environment for the body to continue with the rehabilitation process while further benefiting the brain remodeling.
This research article continues to dive into the deeper histological effects of exercise training post-SCI including the benefits on structure and function of the spinal cord, effects on neuronal structure, changes in cell biochemistry/metabolism, electrophysiological properties of motor neurons, and exercise used in conjunction with addition therapies. In conclusion, the study states, “exercise training can induce structural and functional changes in the cerebral cortex, spinal cord, and skeletal muscles, thus improving neural and muscular function following SCI” (Fu, Wang, Deng, and Li; 2016, pg. 4). The researchers who conducted the study also goes on to state “Exercise training combined with other treatments in SCI is the future direction with the most promise.” (Fu, Wang, Deng, and Li; 2016, pg. 4).
In addition, the individuals who wrote this study continued to express their interest in the secondary complications that arise with SCI. These complications include chronic pain, bladder and gastrointestinal dysfunction, muscle mass loss, osteoporosis, pressure ulcers, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems, depression and temperature control. These topics are rarely discussed in literature and needs further exploration. Any insight or perspectives that could be shared to the staff at NeuAbility would greatly help our ability to understand and relate to our clients.
Reference: Exercise Training Promotes Functional Recovery after Spinal Cord Injury: Juanjuan Fu, Hongxing Wang, Lingxiao Deng, and Jianan Li; Published in Neuro Plasticity – 2016.
Contributor: Dane Stair