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Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers

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Journal of Neurotrauma

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The aim of this study was to understand how high- and low-intensity locomotor training (LT) affects sympathetic-somatomotor (SS) coupling in people with incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). Proper coupling between sympathetic and somatomotor systems allows controlled regulation of cardiovascular responses to exercise. In people with SCI, altered connectivity between descending pathways and spinal segments impairs sympathetic and somatomotor coordination, which may have deleterious effects during exercise and limit rehabilitation outcomes. We postulated that high-intensity LT, which repeatedly engages SS systems, would alter SS coupling. Thirteen individuals (50 ± 7.2 years) with motor incomplete spinal cord injuries (American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale C or D; injury level >T6) participated in a locomotor treadmill training program. Patients were randomized into either a high-intensity (high-LT; 70–85% of maximum predicted heart rate; n = 6) group or a low-intensity (low-LT; 50–65% of maximum predicted heart rate; n = 7) group and completed up to 20 LT training sessions over 4–6 weeks, 3–5 days/week. Before and after training, we tested SS coupling by eliciting reflexive sympathetic activity through a cold stimulation, noxious stimulation, and a mental math task while we measured tendon reflexes, blood pressure, and heart rate. Participants who completed high- versus low-LT exhibited significant decreases in reflex torques during triggered sympathetic activity (cold: −83 vs. 13%, p < 0.01; pain: −65 vs. 54%, p < 0.05; mental math: −43 vs. 41%; p < 0.05). Mean arterial pressure responses to sympathetic stimuli were slightly higher following high- versus low-LT (cold: 30 vs. −1.5%; pain: 6 vs. −12%; mental math: 5 vs. 7%), although differences were not statistically significant. These results suggest that high-LT may be advantageous to low-LT to improve SS coupling in people with incomplete SCI.


Accepted version. Journal of Neurotrauma, Vol. 36, No. 18 (August 30, 2019): 2688-2697. DOI. © 2019 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers. Used with permission.

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