Locomotor training in people with spinal cord injury: is this exercise?
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Locomotor training holds tremendous appeal to people with spinal cord injury who are wheelchair dependent, as the reacquisition of gait remains one of the most coveted goals in this population. For the last few decades this type of training has remained primarily in the clinical environment, as it requires the use of expensive treadmills with bodyweight support or complex overhead suspension tracks to facilitate overground walking. The development of powered exoskeletons has taken locomotor training out of the clinic, both improving accessibility and providing a potential option for community ambulation in people with lower limb paralysis. A question that has yet to be answered, however, is whether or not locomotor training offers a sufficiently intense stimulus to induce improvements in fitness or health. As inactivity-related secondary health complications are a major source of morbidity and mortality in people with SCI, it would be important to characterize the potential of locomotor training to not only improve functional walking ability, but also improve health-related fitness. This narrative review will summarize the key literature in this area to determine whether locomotor training challenges the cardiovascular, muscular or metabolic systems enough to be considered a viable form of exercise.
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