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A form of strength training rarely used on spinal cord patients due to concerns about its intensity has been shown to deliver a raft of health benefits in a small but potentially ground-breaking study.
Five patients with chronic spinal cord injury demonstrated reduced spasticity, improved muscle strength and better quality of life as a result of research using high-intensity neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES).
NMES strength training – the use of electrical impulses to contract muscles – is usually performed at low intensities for spinal cord patients due to assumed tolerance levels.
But Professor in Biomechanics Tony Blazevich from ECU's School of Medical & Health Sciences said participants not only tolerated the high-intensity stimulation during supervised sessions over 12 weeks; they also experienced significant health benefits.
"Symptoms of spasticity were significantly reduced, muscle strength improved and there was also an improvement in cholesterol levels," Professor Blazevich said.
"Importantly there was a clear improvement in findings recorded against the Quality of Life Index, which is perhaps reflective of participants feeling physically active because they're experiencing muscle contractions of the paralysed muscle.
One subject, a former competitive surfer, expressed that he was enjoying having a 'leg day at the gym'."