Physical capacity in wheelchair-dependent persons with a spinal cord injury: a critical review of the literature

Spinal Cord. 2006 Nov;44(11):642-52. doi: 10.1038/ Epub 2006 Mar 14.


Study design: Review of publications.

Objective: To assess the level of physical capacity (peak oxygen uptake, peak power output, muscle strength of the upper extremity and respiratory function) in wheelchair-dependent persons with a spinal cord injury (SCI).

Setting: Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Methods: Pubmed (Medline) search of publications from 1980 onwards. Studies were systematically assessed. Weighted means were calculated for baseline values.

Results: In tetraplegia, the weighted mean for peak oxygen uptake was 0.89 l/min for the wheelchair exercise test (WCE) and 0.87 l/min for arm-cranking or hand-cycling (ACE). The peak power output was 26 W (WCE) and 40 W (ACE). In paraplegia, the peak oxygen uptake was 2.10 l/min (WCE) and 1.51 l/min (ACE), whereas the peak power output was 74 W (ACE) and 85 W (WCE). In paraplegia, muscle strength of the upper extremity and respiratory function were comparable to that in the able-bodied population. In tetraplegia muscle strength varied greatly, and respiratory function was reduced to 55-59% of the predicted values for an age-, gender- and height-matched able-bodied population.

Conclusions: Physical capacity is reduced and varies in SCI. The variation between results is caused by population and methodological differences. Standardized measurement of physical capacity is needed to further develop comparative values for clinical practice and rehabilitation research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data
  • Pulmonary Ventilation / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Wheelchairs*