Partnership provides inclusive workout

May 11th, 2012
People with spinal cord injuries and reduced mobility now have access to specialized exercise equipment in an inclusive community setting, thanks to a partnership between the University of Alberta and the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society.

Two new functional electrical stimulation (FES) rehabilitation therapy machines are now available at the Saville Community Sports Centre, operated by the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the U of A. FES is a form of exercise for people with spinal cord injuries, stroke and other neuromuscular disorders that involves sending electrical currents to paralyzed or weakened muscles so they contract to restore some degree of functional movement.

The new FES equipment and staffing support was provided by the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society. One of the machines, called the RT 200 elliptical, allows users to exercise their arms and legs at the same time—a rarity among such equipment in Canada.

"Through the incredible support of partners like the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society, the University of Alberta has established itself as a leader in adapted physical activity rehabilitation in Canada," said Karen Slater, associate director of the Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement, which runs the community FES transition program in collaboration with the society and Saville Community Sports Centre.

"This partnership allows us to bring in technology that no one else is using in a community setting in Canada. That means we can provide a better service to our users so they can live healthier, happier, more independent lives."

The value of independence and inclusivity cannot be underestimated given that many FES machines are located in hospitals and rehabilitation settings, said Louise Miller, president of the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society.

"This allows people to go to a fitness centre where everybody else is working out. You can go and exercise next to your friend or family member. You can go when you want," said Miller.

Miller co-founded the not-for-profit society in 1987, a few years after life-saving surgery left her with paraplegia. A former nurse, she felt more could be done for people with spinal injuries and has spent the last 25 years working to create opportunities for people to maintain their quality of life.

In 1991, the society purchased western Canada's first FES system, which was donated to the Steadward Centre. In total, the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society has provided about $425,000 for staff support and equipment that help people with spinal injuries.

"We can do things together as a family"

One of those people is Shauna Paisley Cooper. The Stony Plain resident was an athlete and outdoor enthusiast until a mountain-biking accident four years ago upended her life.

"I was quite an avid mountain biker. It wasn't a trail that was above my level of competence or anything," recalled Paisley Cooper, who, while trying to avoid a jump, ended up going over her handlebars and landing on her head, breaking her neck in the process.

The accident left her with C6 quadriplegia—paralyzed from the chest down with limited movement in her arms. It also caused a major life upheaval for the former stay-at-home mom, whose aunt moved in with the family in a new home to help care for their two twin toddlers and a live-in caregiver.

FES has helped Paisley Cooper stay healthy and active.

"It's been good. The electrical stimulation is fascinating, that it does make my legs move. It's increased my circulation so I don't have to wear compression socks, and I've seen increased tone in my quadricep muscles," she said. "It feels good to be able to ride a bike again."

Being active in an inclusive environment has also improved her self-esteem. She's able to work out at the same time her girls are in gymnastics. "We can do things together as a family in the same centre," she said.

Being able to help people like Paisley Cooper achieve a level of independence and improved physical and emotional health is where the community FES program excels, said Slater.

"Even little changes, like working out in a community setting like everyone else, can make a big, big difference to someone with reduced mobility. It's humbling to see that kind of transformation—and rewarding, too. It couldn't happen without the support of outstanding partners and staff."

Provided by University of Alberta

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