This prospective case-controlled clinical study was undertaken to investigate to what extent the manually assisted treadmill stepping locomotor training with body weight support (LT) can change respiratory function in individuals with chronic spinal cord injury (SCI). Pulmonary function outcomes (forced vital capacity /FVC/, forced expiratory volume one second /FEV1/, maximum inspiratory pressure /PImax/, maximum expiratory pressure /PEmax/) and surface electromyographic (sEMG) measures of respiratory muscles activity during respiratory tasks were obtained from eight individuals with chronic C3-T12 SCI before and after 62±10 (mean±SD) sessions of the LT. FVC, FEV1, PImax, PEmax, amount of overall sEMG activity and rate of motor unit recruitment were significantly increased after LT (p<0.05). These results suggest that these improvements induced by the LT are likely the result of neuroplastic changes in spinal neural circuitry responsible for the activation of respiratory muscles preserved after injury.
Keywords: Locomotor training; Motor control; Respiratory function; Spinal cord injury.
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