Abstract Information


Swimming and Cardiovascular Fitness after SCI: A Pilot Project

Kessler A, Dayanidhi S
Shirley Ryan Abilitylab, Chicago, IL, USA

Life expectancy of patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) has increased over time with cardiovascular disease now as a major cause of morbidity. SCI patients have higher rates of obesity, metabolic derangements including DM2, dyslipidemia, and hypertension than age matched individuals in the general population as well as lower levels of exercise due in part to modifiable issues such as lack of accessible facilities, unaffordable equipment, no personal assistance and fear of injury. Limited data exists for swimming as a viable form of exercise after SCI. This study proposes swimming as an alternate form of exercise for SCI patients to perform in order to achieve the exercise intensity recommended for cardiovascular fitness, which is affordable and enjoyable. Additionally it aims to see if adequate exercise paramaters can be reached and measured when compared to standards hand cycle ergometry.

This study was a single center prospective cohort study. Inclusion criteria were any subject with a traumatic spinal cord injury levels T6-T12 who knows how to swim, primary wheelchair user, and is over the age of 18. Exclusion criteria included those with injuries not between levels T6-T12, could not swim, had active infections, open skin lesions, unstable cardiac or lung diseases, or under the age of 18.

4 subjects level T12 and one T6 completed the study. Ages ranged 25-65 with time since injury 4-40 years. Three swam using freestyle strokes and two with no standard stroke. The Pearson's correlation coefficient (r) for VO2 comparing the bike and swim is 0.86 and (r) for average heart rate was 0.95, showing a strong positive association between the two measures. Overall subjects enjoyed swimming more than biking with an average score of 4.8 for swimming and an average of 3.6. A RER of >1.15 was achieved during the swimming sessions for all subjects.

This study demonstrated the superior enjoyment for people with SCI when comparing 6 minutes of swimming to 6 minutes of hand cycle ergometry at the same level of perceived exertion with similar Vo2 and HR parameters. It demonstrated the ability for people with SCI to swim independently and to achieve high levels of exercise intensity as shown by all subjects' ability to achieve an RER of >1.15. This pilot study suggests that swimming is an enjoyable and feasible form of exercise after spinal cord injury therefore more research is needed to assess the effect of swimming on cardiovascular fitness after spinal cord injury.


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