Patients who are unable to walk after a spinal injury have a poorer quality of life and a shortened lifespan than their non-paralysed counterparts. Sitting passively in a chair makes people susceptible to weight and digestion problems, lower bone density, diabetes – and last but not least, heart and circulation problems.
READY FOR INTERVAL TRAINING: Terje Roel is paralysed as a result of a spinal injury. Here Berit Brurok is readying him for a demonstration of the arm and leg cycle. Photo: Vegard Eggen/Gemini
“It’s the circulation problems that are the most difficult for them, and it’s circulation problems that kill them”, says Jan Hoff, a professor of medicine at NTNU. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new type of exercise equipment, partly developed at NTNU, combined with a new training plan, makes it possible for spinal patients to exercise themselves back to health – at least as far as the heart is concerned.
In an exercise study completed last year, patients who were paralysed from the chest or waist down experienced an average increase in their oxygen uptake by 25 per cent and in their heart pumping volume by fully 37 per cent – after just eight weeks of training.
Never before has so much improvement or such impressive results been documented in this patient group.
Not just a stationary bike
This clever training equipment is called Ergys 2, and was originally designed in the United States. It was Christopher Reeve – who himself played Superman in films, but who became a quadrapelgic after a riding accident – who financed the development of the rehab equipment, in the hopes of improving his own health. But that didn’t quite happen, and the actor died of heart failure when he was just 52 years old. Nevertheless, his efforts gave the world’s spinal injury patients a useful piece of rehabilitation equipment.
The Ergys 2 is a stationary training bicycle, where the patient’s legs and feet are strapped to a leg holder and pedals. Electrodes are then fastened to the patient’s thigh and seat muscles, and electrical impulses trigger the muscles to contract and relax. The impulses are computer controlled to guarantee the best possible effect.
Even though it may seem like artificial training, it is real enough – it’s the patient’s own muscles that are working. And it is movement that demands energy: the blood flow increases, and the pulse goes up. The exercise has an effect on muscle mass, muscle strength, oxygen uptake and the heart’s pumping volume.
Hard workouts, few repetitions
But it’s not enough to focus on the legs and buttocks, if this kind of training is going to make a real difference. The more muscle groups that are involved, the greater the blood flow, and the greater the benefits for the heart. That’s where NTNU researchers come into the picture. They’ve found a way to supplement the Ergsys 2 with an arm cycle, intended for patients who can use their arms without help.
The patients who participated in the training study were also able to simultaneously exercise their shoulders, arms, rump and legs, in a high intensity interval 4 x 4 pattern. That translates to four minutes of hard exercise followed by three to four minutes of easier training – with the entire procedure repeated four times per session, three days a week.
NTNU’s Professor Jan Hoff developed this interval approach several years ago, along with his colleague Jan Helgerud. He uses this interval technique for most types of physical training.
“Hard workouts, few repetitions. There is no other training approach that gives better results in improving oxygen uptake or muscle strength than that”, he says.
A preventative approach
Never before has research documented such a significant effect on the heart and circulation in patients with spinal injuries, as the study has shown. There has been relatively little research overall on spinal patients and exercise, in terms of what kinds and how much exercise actually give beneficial results.
The patients in this study were so out of shape when they started that they were unlikely to reach a normal level. But Hoff doesn’t think it’s an impossible goal.
“We really don’t know, but there’s no reason to believe that the improvements will stop where they are now”, he says.
Hoff doesn’t want to speculate on the implications of his research on the treatment of Norwegian patients paralysed from spinal injuries.
“We’re researchers, not therapists” he says. “But it’s clear that what we’re doing has consequences, both for Norway and for the world. And that gives us a great opportunity to prevent lifestyle related illnesses”.
Under Hoff’s guidance, Berit Brurok conducted the study for her master’s thesis in exercise physiology. Brurok is continuing her work in this area as a part of her PhD research, in cooperation with Dr. Tom Tørhaug at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim.
Because the Ergys 2 is expensive, and because it also requires assistance to use, the researchers are looking to see if the results from the study can be transferred to other activities. Would it be possible to do something similar in a wheelchair? Could it be done without electricity?
If they succeed, it could mean a better quality of life and a longer life for many people. In Norway alone there are 5000 spinal injury patients, while in the USA that number may be closer to 500,000.
Professor Jan Hoff | alfa
New Video Camera Released Featuring Ultra-High-Speed CMOS Image Sensor Developed At Tohoku University
11.08.2015 | Tohoku University
Safe motorcycle helmets – made of carrot fibers?
06.08.2015 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
12.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences