Study design: All randomized controlled trials, prospective cohort, case-controlled, pre-post studies and case reports that assessed exercise interventions, which influence arterial structure and function after spinal cord injury (SCI), were included.
Objective: To review systematically the evidence for exercise as a therapy to alter arterial function in persons with SCI.
Setting: Literature searches were conducted for appropriate articles using several electronic databases (e.g. MEDLINE, EMBASE).
Methods: Three independent reviewers evaluated each investigation's quality, using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database Scale for randomized controlled trials and Downs and Black Scale for all other studies. Results were tabulated and levels of evidence assigned.
Results: A total of 283 studies were found through the systematic literature search. Upon review of the articles, 27 were included. The articles were separated into those investigating arterial benefits, resulting from either acute bouts of exercise or long-term exercise interventions. The ability of both acute and long-term exercise interventions to improve arterial structure and function in those with SCI was supported by limited to moderate methodological quality. Upper body wheeling is the most commonly examined exercise therapy for improving arterial function. It appears from the evidence that a variety of exercise interventions, including passive exercise, upper body wheeling, functional electrical stimulation and electrically stimulated resistance exercise, can improve arterial function in those living with SCI.
Conclusions: Although the quality and volume of evidence is low, the literature supports exercise as a useful intervention technique for improving arterial function in those with SCI.