Background/objectives: Spasticity in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) is difficult to manage. Exercise and stretching is advocated as a management tool, but these activities are difficult to perform for most patients as a result of multiple barriers. This report shows the effect of passive range-of-motion exercise in a walking-like pattern on frequency-dependent habituation of the H-reflex in the lower extremities of an individual with spastic tetraplegia due to SCI.
Methods: The participant, a man with a chronic ASIA B C7 SCI due to a gunshot wound, used a motorized bicycle exercise trainer (MBET) developed at the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that could be operated from the individual's wheelchair. He used the MBET for 1 hour, 5 days a week, for 13 weeks. H-reflex habituation was tested at the beginning of the study and then periodically over the course of 17 weeks, including 4 weeks after exercise had ceased.
Results: Significant habituation of the H-reflex was evident beginning at the 10th week of training. The habituation in the H-reflex reached a normal level at 5- and 10-Hz frequencies at 12 weeks. Subjective assessment of spasticity indicated that it was significantly reduced. The H-reflex amplitude was maintained at normal levels during the remaining week of the course of exercise and for 2 additional weeks after exercise ceased. The H-reflex habituation, however, returned to near baseline when reassessed at week 17, 4 weeks after the exercise program had concluded. Subjective assessment indicated that spasticity also had returned to pretraining levels.
Conclusions: Habituation of the H-reflex, and perhaps spasticity, can be managed by a routine passive range-of-motion exercise program using a MBET, but the exercise program may need to be continuous. The benefit of reduced medication for spasticity and possibly improved quality of life could be a motivating factor for an individual with SCI and spasticity to continue the program. Because of the low complexity of the program, ease of use, and small size, this system could be inexpensive and could be used by an individual in the home. Ongoing studies will determine the minimum amount of MBET training required for maintaining long-term H-reflex habituation.