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Spinal Cord Injury: What You Need To Know

Spinal Cord Injury

What is a spinal cord injury?

A spinal cord injury refers to damage to any part of the spinal cord. The messages being sent along the nerves are disrupted past the point of injury leading to a loss of sensation and/or function below the level of injury. Sensation and function loss varies greatly among people with spinal cord injuries due to differences in the extent of damage to the spinal cord. The level along the spinal cord can impact how much of the body is not receiving signals from the brain.

Further, the severity of the damage at the level of injury may be ‘complete’, referring to no signals traveling past the injury, or ‘incomplete’ referring to only some signals not being able to pass the site of injury. For example, an individual with an injury at the spinal cord level C6 may experience impaired strength from some of the muscles in their arms and down their body. The extent of this person’s physical impairments depends on the type and severity of the damage to the spinal cord.

What is the physical impact of a spinal cord injury?

As spinal cord injuries impair the body’s feeling and muscle function, people living with spinal cord injuries may face challenges in their daily lives such as difficulty sitting up in bed, standing from a chair, walking short distances, reaching to pick up an object, etc.

Each experiences different challenges depending on their level of function. Often these difficult daily tasks become goals to work towards and to regain independence.

Why is exercise important for spinal cord injury?

After a spinal cord injury, there is an increased risk of other health conditions such as heart, bone, or joint diseases, largely due to a decrease in physical activity level.

Exercise is highly recommended to maintain a healthy heart, lungs, blood vessels, bones, and joints. With the right guidance, exercise is a safe and effective treatment to many conditions associated with spinal cord injuries and to improve functional ability.

Spinal Cord Injury Specialists

We, as exercise physiologists, are trained to provide a safe and effective exercise program for people living with a spinal cord injury to ultimately make life easier!

Many allied health professionals (Exercise Physiologists, Occupational therapists, Physiotherapists, Dietitians) can assist a person with a spinal cord injury towards their goals through different types of treatment. Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) are the highest qualified exercise professionals who prescribe exercise to improve the body’s functional ability and maintain a healthy body. With the guidance of an AEP, many people with spinal cord injuries can build on their ability by learning new ways to move and by increasing the strength and endurance of their muscles. AEPs are trained to provide safe and effective exercise programs for people living with disabilities such as spinal cord injury.


Summary of new information

A spinal cord injury (SCI) disrupts the site for reflex integration between body sensors and motor and autonomic effectors, leading to a range of physical, social, and psychological changes. Habitual exercise can be instrumental in reducing fatigue, pain, weakness, joint deterioration, and incipient neurological deficits commonly experienced after SCI. However, exercise options for individuals with SCI are limited compared to those without physical impairments.

In SCI, the spinal cord typically remains anatomically intact but suffers contusion, infarction, or mechanical deformation, interrupting its local or relay circuitry. The ASIA scale defines the type of impairment closely following injury, distinguishing between upper motor neuron injury (above T10) and lower motor neuron injury (below T10). Muscle atrophy is greater in cases of flaccid paralysis.

Tetraplegia results from cervical segment injury, while paraplegia stems from thoracic, lumbar, or sacral segment injury. “Spinal Shock,” a state of areflexia following SCI, may occur due to hyperpolarization of cord neurons. Approximately one year post-injury is typically when researchers classify neurological stability for research inclusion.

SCI syndromes include anterior cord syndrome, central cord syndrome, Brown-Sequard syndrome, and conus medullaris syndrome, each characterized by specific motor and sensory impairments.

People with SCI experience accelerated pathological states associated with premature aging and deconditioning, such as dyslipidemia, heart disease, circulatory insufficiency, and bone/joint injuries. Many body organs and tissues acutely respond to exercise despite their decentralised or denervated states.

Following SCI, affected body systems undergo significant changes, including muscle inefficiency and weakness, bone demineralization, deterioration of the cardiovascular system, and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Peak exercise capacity diminishes due to blunting of physiological responses depending on the level of injury (LOI).

Endurance training, matched with guidelines for individuals without SCI, improves VO2 peak, with the magnitude inversely proportional to the LOI. Circuit resistance training interspersed with endurance activities is considered the most optimal training procedure. Carefully prescribed exercise has demonstrated the ability to enhance activity, life satisfaction, and health in individuals with Spinal Cord Injury, underscoring its importance in rehabilitation and overall well-being.

Related Post

Trent Brock | Mobile Exercise Physiologist

Trent Brock

mobile exercise physiologist
I have had 3 major passions throughout my life; exercise, competitive sports, and a strong will to help others. Those 3 factors made it an easy decision to pursue a career as an exercise physiologist. By encouraging and facilitating evidence-based exercise rehabilitation, I can help individuals living with various chronic conditions, particularly those living with neurological conditions.
I see exercise physiology as an extremely beneficial practice that enables clients to experience an improved quality of life. Personally, being able to provide insight into exercise and other tools that can equip clients with helpful skills and wellbeing improvements is extremely fulfilling. Being able to improve not only an individual, but their support network’s day-to-day life fills me with great joy and motivates me to continue to be better so that I can do better. I understand that everyone has a different view of exercise and there is no one-size fits all approach, so I operate with an open and adaptive mind, supported by evidence-based practices. If you or anyone that you know is looking to improve their quality of life and begin a journey to improved living, or just have any general questions, get in touch and let's have a chat!
Michelle Marais AEP

Michelle Marais

mobile exercise physiologist
My passion for movement, health, and helping others led me to become an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Through this role, I facilitate exercise-based rehabilitation for individuals with various chronic conditions, with a primary interest and area of expertise in neurological conditions.
To me, exercise physiology is about equipping clients with valuable skills that make daily tasks easier and empowering them to achieve their goals while enjoying the process.I take great pride in being a part of my clients' rehabilitation journey and exploring new methods with them to find the optimal exercise approach that works best for them.If you have any questions or are interested in starting your journey to a happier, healthier lifestyle, please feel free to reach out to me.
Angus Sullivan AEP

Angus Sullivan AEP

Mobile Exercise Physiologist
As an accredited exercise physiologist, I see my role as an opportunity to facilitate a safe and effective environment for my clients to explore their physical capabilities, identify areas where they would like to improve, and then prescribe meaningful and appropriate activities to achieve these improvements.
I currently work predominantly with individuals living with disability and have a keen interest in acquired brain injuries (ABI), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), cerebral palsy (CP), spinal cord injuries (SCI) and rare neurological conditions.
To me, exercise physiology is not only about achieving narrow objective goals (eg. 1 Rep Max bench press), but improving an individual’s lifestyle and making activities of daily living easier (mobilising, transferring, feeding, and more).
I love what I do and enjoy learning new methods and discussing different opinions about exercise. I am always happy to chat about it so please get in contact if you have any questions or knowledge that you wish to share!
Our team of mobile exercise physiologists

Walter White

manager of good vibes
Being active has taken on a whole new meaning and I am 100% here for it. I like to fink I'm pretty active, and I keep up de vibes during team meetings - just making sure everyone's hands are always moving (across my butt) because I know dat any exercise is good exercise.
I keep close to everyone, real close, just to keep dem on their toes when dey walk by too.
Fings are always better when I am der so if you need some good vibes, I will be der for you.
Brb just going to have a snooze.
Love and licks,
Brittney Kenward

Brittney Kenward

co-founder / Operations manager
I’m NOT an exercise physiologist, but I do take my hat off to my team and get to admire the work they do each and every day. Be Physiology means that we’re able to apply our passion, and our experience, to make exercise physiology more accessible to the people who need it the most.
You might hear the team describe me as ‘the person who does everything else’, and that can be translated to ‘marketing and operations'. My background is marketing and business, which I’ve lived and breathed since 2011. I’ve worked in both the agency and corporate spaces, across many industries, with many amazing people and now with Be Physiology, I get to explore the health industry further and continue to meet the most incredible people who are the ones to define motivation.
If you’ve met Harry and Aj, you’d know that they don’t really need marketing - they’re genuine, have ridiculous amounts of charisma, knowledgeable, and extremely passionate about helping people to be a better version of themselves. But, sometimes getting an introduction is the hardest part and that’s where I come in.
If you want to chat, a coffee, a laugh, I’m always here to make one or all of them happen.

So call me and let’s keep sharing the love!
Keegan Betts AEP

Keegan Betts AEP

mobile exercise physiologist
As an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, my work is driven by my passion for movement, health, and empowering others. With my experience working with individuals of all ages who have neurological conditions such as autism, stroke, and cerebral palsy, I focus on delivering activity-based therapy to optimise their independence.
Seeing people empowered and handling daily tasks easier is incredibly rewarding, as well as being able to give others the tools to improve their mental health and prevent secondary health conditions.
I know the importance of creating a welcoming and safe environment particularly when improving our health and I always strive to ensure everybody feels supported by the team around them and receives the highest level of care.
Get in touch today and let's make it happen.
Kristen McCluskey

Kristen McCluskey

Mobile Exercise Physiologist
If you spend as little as 10 minutes a day exercising, it will still make a huge difference to your overall physical and mental health - this is a fact and it is very often underappreciated! The benefits of exercise don’t discriminate and the rumours are true, exercise is medicine.
Spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions and women’s health are areas I find to be very dynamic and that I am particularly passionate about, but all aspects of exercise physiology are unique and have a significant impact on people’s everyday lives and I want to continue bringing it to those who will benefit the most from it.
I'm passionate about learning new methods and learning what my clients enjoy and how they approach exercise. I am always happy to chat about the many benefits and outcomes of exercise physiology so please get in contact if you have any questions or knowledge that you wish to share.
If you’re interested in learning more about who I am or want to ask any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch at .
Charlotte Gill

Charlotte Gill

marketing assistant
My name is Charlotte, and I'm a sports enthusiast currently studying for a marketing degree. Although I am not an exercise physiologist, I have a passion for sports having a background in ski instructing and adaptive skiing. Like the team, I believe exercise is medicine and share a similar passion and values to help and motivate others I meet.
I've been fortunate enough to work globally with a background in event management, ski instructing, administrating, and climbing supervisor. However, working alongside the Be Physiology team as my dream role in marketing is a highlight. If you have had the pleasure of meeting the team, you will know their genuine, funny, knowledgeable, and passionate to help others. These are values that I also pride myself in, and I am so fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded colleagues.
Harry White AEP

Harry White AEP

co-founder / supervisor
Exercise physiology combines two of my favourite things: health and helping people. As an accredited exercise physiologist with more than seven years’ clinical experience, I have treated people presenting with a wide variety of health conditions and concerns, postural issues, chronic injuries and rehabilitation needs.
My expertise is spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders and helping my clients to achieve an improved quality of life through rehabilitation and functional training. Rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders can be slow but incredibly rewarding for clients when results are achieved, no matter how small. Assisting people through learning useful skills and functional training is the most important role that an EP can play to help people lead a more fulfilled life.
Working for many years with people who have suffered serious injury or live with a disability, I know that taking a proactive approach to your health changes your life. If you care for your body, it will take care of you.
I’m passionate about helping people live a long, healthy and active life, so call today.