Each year, 11,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI) in the U.S. Within the first year, there are profound declines in physiologic function, forming the underlying substrate for future cardiovascular disease. In fact, acquired cardiovascular disease is an increasingly recognized consequence of SCI and is the leading cause of death in SCI. Though incompletely understood, the almost 10-fold prevalence of cardiovascular disease results in part from profound physiologic 'detraining'resulting from motor impairment and immobility. Currently, effective interventions preventing acute declines that lead to cardiovascular compromise and increased risk in SCI are lacking - exercise therapy for those with SCI is challenging and when employed, is typically limited to the upper body. Recently, we refined a unique form of exercise for those with SCI that specifically mirrors exercise performed by those without SCI. Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Row Training (RT) couples volitional arm and electrically controlled leg exercise, resulting in a hemodynamic profile that produces the beneficial cardiac loading conditions of large muscle mass exercise. As such, FES-RT may be a safe and effective way to attenuate cardiovascular declines following SCI.
Our aims are to test the overall hypotheses that FES-RT will: 1) mitigate against increased visceral adiposity and reduced insulin sensitivity, 2) prevent worsening lipid profile and compromised baroreflex function, and 3) counter ventricular wall thickening and declining ventricular function occurring with acute SCI, and that these effects will be greater than that observed with an arms-only exercise group. Changes with FES-RT will be compared to a time (wait-list) control and to arms-only-RT. Individuals with an SCI within the last 3-6 months will be randomized to immediate FES-RT, to a time control beginning FES-RT after a 6 month wait, or 6 months of arms-only-RT followed by FES-RT. Measures will be made at baseline and every 3 months. Our work will provide results that clearly delineate potential health benefits of FES-RT, and if FES-RT is effective in a majority of those with SCI, its application, implementation, and integration could be easily replicated.

Public Health Relevance

After spinal cord injury (SCI), individuals experience rapid &profound declines in function that underlie future cardiovascular risk. However, effective preventative interventions are lacking for acute SCI. We will test a unique exercise coupling volitional arm and electrically controlled leg contractions. This work will provide results clearly delineating potential health benefits of this exercise in the acute phase of SCI.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
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Clinical and Integrative Cardiovascular Sciences Study Section (CICS)
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Fleg, Jerome
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Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
United States
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