Spinal Cord Injury
Recently, researchers have creatively applied non-traditional physiological approaches to improve functional capacity after SCI. This interdisciplinary symposium will explain novel, experimental approaches to enhance functional capacity of vascular, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems. Firstly, repetitive exposures to heat stress in the form of saunas and hot water baths have been viewed for centuries as being conducive to good health and well-being. However, recent studies have demonstrated the potential for ‘heat therapy’ to improve vascular function and decrease risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Additionally, improvements in cutaneous microvascular function following heat therapy have been observed. Heat therapy holds potential benefits for individuals with spinal cord injury, and may represent a novel treatment for improving cardiovascular health in a population in need of alternative strategies. Secondly, breathing brief bouts of low oxygen (Acute intermittent hypoxia, AIH) has shown promise as a plasticity-promoting primer for recovery of breathing and limb function in rats and humans with SCI. Restoring hand function remains a high priority for persons with cervical SCI and, to do so, endogenous mechanisms of plasticity must be triggered. AIH, coupled with mass practice, demonstrates potential as an adjunctive intervention to improve hand use in persons with cervical SCI. Thirdly, external ventilatory support can improve the ability to exercise train and hence enhance the adaptations to chronic exercise. Despite the ability to train the denervated leg skeletal muscle via FES exercise, the inability to increase ventilation beyond limits set by high level SCI restricts aerobic capacity. Functional Electrical Stimulation Row Training (FESRT) coupled with assisted breathing (Non invasive ventilation, NIV) has shown promising results to enhance exercise tolerance and improve gains in aerobic capacity. This interdisciplinary symposium will review physiological mechanisms of heat therapy, AIH, and NIV and how these unique adaptations are well suited to enhance functional capacity after SCI. Additionally, we will show how the experimental studies that demonstrate the potential of these interventions treatment to improve vascular, musculoskeletal, and respiratory function can be incorporated into rehabilitation for those with SCI.